by Christina Dun and Evgeniya Zolkina
by Mariam Elba
A new poll indicates that American Muslim voters are likely to vote at higher rates than other groups in the Nov. 4 elections.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a survey Friday of 1,500 American Muslims in six populous states; 69 percent said that they plan to vote in this upcoming election.
According to the United States Census Bureau, during the 2012 elections there was a 66 percent turnout among African-American voters, 64 percent turnout among non-Hispanic white voters and 49 percent turnout among Hispanic voters. The Pew Research center additionally stated that there has been a gradual decline in voter turnout among those who identified as white Protestants and white Catholics. The total voter turnout was 59 percent in the 2012 elections.
The CAIR survey, which also asked what issues the participants deemed most important, covered Muslim voters in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas and Virginia. More than half, 51 percent, said they would vote for Democratic Party candidates; 23 percent declined to state their party leanings. This is projected to be part of a trend in high voter turnout among American Muslim voters through the past decade, as 81 percent answered that they would definitely vote in the 2012 election, and 89 percent said they vote regularly in a survey held during the 2006 midterm election.
The American Muslim population, according to the Pew Research Forum, increased from about 1.7 million to 2.6 million between 2000 and 2010. The Pew Research Center estimated in 2014 that there are about 2.75 million American Muslims throughout the country, and 600,000 to 1 million of them are New York City residents.
CAIR issued a press release on Thursday announcing its “Get Out The Vote” campaign to reach over 100,000 households in states estimated to have the highest concentrations of American Muslims — California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas and Virginia. Other efforts this election season include telephone campaigns by the Arab American Association of New York, as well as initiatives to get more American Muslims registered to vote.
Robert McCaw, government affairs manager at CAIR, said that efforts to encourage American Muslims to vote were similar to outreach to other faith and minority groups in the United States. Reaching out to houses of worships and holding candidate forums within community spaces are frequent methods to encourage participation.
According to the CAIR survey, the issues that American Muslims said they were most concerned about parallel the concerns of many other groups of American voters. Those issues include the economy, healthcare and education. U.S. foreign policy ranked much lower; only 5 percent of participants said that was their most important issue this election.
The CAIR survey highlights the increasing significance of Muslim voters in U.S. elections.
“There are a core of independent Muslim voters whose votes are up for grabs.” McCaw said, adding that politicians, particularly Republican candidates, should not keep alienating Muslims and advocating for what he calls “anti-Muslim positions.”
From their participation in the elections, and the issues they are most concerned about, American Muslim voters are similar to other voting groups and are just as invested in the future of their country as other Americans.
by Thom Friend
Occupy Wall Street and the People’s Climate March; two movements that brought hundreds of thousands from around the nation and the world to New York City to make their voices heard. But tomorrow, when Americans make their way to the polling booths to cast their votes, the third-party candidates who hope to champion these causes will see only a few percent of the vote.
Dr. Steven Brams, Professor of Politics at New York University answers questions about third party candidates and the system.
Video by Joanna Bouras
Story by Stacey Kilpatrick
The midterm elections are scheduled for Tuesday, but whether or not scores of New York University’s students will hit the polls is still undecided.
“I think that it’s important for Americans to vote,” said Nicole Horowitz, 21, a student in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, living in the West Village. “Ideally they should be well-informed on the issues, but I think that no matter what state you live in, it’s important to do what you can.”
But Horowitz’s ideals are not shared by everyone on the sprawling Greenwich Village campus, in the heart of Washington Square. NYU has 58,547 students.
Utkarsh Saddi, 21, a Leonard N. Stern School of Business student, living in New Jersey, said he will not vote.
“I do care what happens,” Saddi said. “But I’m just not interested in taking time to go vote. I have better things to do.”
Saddi added that he doesn’t care for either candidate on either platform, which, according to an analysis by The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, is why 5.8 percent of registered voters ages 18-29 didn’t vote in the 2010 midterms.
Midterm elections occur halfway through the president’s four year term.
While President Barack Obama still has two more years in office and his name won’t be on a ballot at the midterms, the elections are considered a thumbs up or thumbs down on his performance. Government gridlock has plagued his presidency and the vote on Tuesday could either ease the gridlock or tighten it. On the ballot will be all 435 seats in the House of Representatives up for re-election, along with 36 Senate seats and 36 gubernatorial seats. Currently the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats.
Voting on who will fill the seats in the midterms, in addition to Horowitz, (who cares about environmentalism and sustainability), will be Francesea Querci, 20, a journalism student in the College of Arts and Science, living in Chinatown. Querci said she will fill out a ballot because she finds political participation extremely important. She’s interested in housing reform.
“Especially as somebody who is considered part of a younger generation, we should participate because we’re going to be the future leaders of this country,” Querci said. “And we need to put people in offices where we can get our voice out there.”
Since 1964, young voters ages 18-24 have consistently voted at lower rates than other age groups, according to an April 2014 report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the United States Census Bureau.
Nationwide, young voting rates dropped from 50.9 percent in 1964 to 38.0 percent in 2012. According to CIRCLE’s May 2013 fact sheet – with data obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS) November Voting and Registration Supplements – the 2012 voter turnout of those aged 18-29 in the state of New York was at 42.4 percent versus 63.4 percent for those aged 30 and older.
The Commerce’s report also mentioned that voting and registration rates are historically lower in non-presidential election years, which we are currently in.
In addition, the number of votes cast during presidential election years from 1972-2012 also show shifts. CIRCLE reported that in the 2000 presidential election, 8.6 million votes were cast by 18-24 year-olds. Numbers increased in 2004 to 11.6 million and again in 2008 to 12.5 million before dipping in 2012 to 11.3 million votes cast.
Michael Pernick, 26, a School of Law student and active member on the NYU Law Democrats board, agreed that numbers have been rising in the youth vote and youth turnout in recent years, but he’s not sure if that will continue after Obama finishes his term.
“That’s a trend that I believe maintained itself that the youth vote has turned out more in recent elections, especially post-2008, than it has previously if you isolate all other variables,” Pernick said. “And that might just be the result of having Barack Obama on the ballot.”
With uncertainty of voter turnout in a non-presidential election year, another obstacle for students is them not registering in their new state. Adam Schulz, 19, a Gallatin student from Chicago, Ill., living in Union Square, said that he’s not voting in the midterms because he never registered in New York. About 10 percent of registered voters in the CIRCLE’s analysis didn’t vote in the 2010 midterms because they were out of town or away from home.
“I could see myself [registering] in the future possibly,” Schulz said. “It’s good to have a say … and I’m going to be spending the majority of my life for the next four years in New York City, so I think I should start getting involved with the voting process.”
Schulz being an out-of-state student represents much of the NYU student body, as the university is home to students from across the globe and across diverse backgrounds.
All 50 states embody the undergraduate student population, international students make up 20 percent of the university’s student body (8.954 students), and the 2013 freshmen class is 18 percent international from a record-breaking 87 countries.
Anibal Suriel, 19, a Stern student from Miami, Fla., living in Chinatown, said that he never planned to vote and isn’t interested, a reason why 17.2 percent of registered voters in 2010 didn’t make it to the midterm polls.
“It’s kind of a hassle, well not a hassle, it’s a process that I’m not familiar with,” Suriel said, adding that he doesn’t know how to register.
Also too busy with classes and extracurricular activities, like 33.5 percent of registered voters in the CIRCLE’s analysis, Suriel, said that he could be interested in voting in the future.
“I definitely would be interested in [voting], especially because political science is my second major,” Suriel said. “So I guess that’s something I should look into.”
Joanna Bouras contributed to this report
by Megan Jamerson and Neil Giardino
Staten Island is only a short ferry ride south of Manhattan, but when it comes to Superstorm Sandy recovery, the distance feels great. Since the storm, the hardest hit borough is stuck in a slow recovery.
Last week marked the two year anniversary, and Staten Islanders are still mucking out homes along the Island’s Eastern shore. And with a critical midterm election looming, the issue of recovery is more political now than ever.
by Ben Shapiro and Virginia Gunawan
By Mireia Triguero
Public support for the education policy known as the Common Core standards has been free falling in New York State since Governor Andrew Cuomo implemented it in 2012. For Cuomo, it has become an issue in the upcoming elections.
Cuomo, a Democrat, leads his Republican opponent by 21 points, according to the latest Siena poll. But the question is what mandate he will have after the election, said Lawrence Mead, New York University professor and expert on American politics.
Teacher unions, which hold a lot of power in the Democratic Party, now oppose the Common Core. New York State United Teachers withdrew their support at the beginning of the year and asked for “major course corrections to its failed implementation plan,” in an official statement. Depending on the electoral results, Cuomo could face pressure to act on the Common Core issue.
The opposition against the education standards, a set of academic goals from kindergarten through high school, began on the Republican side but has moved to be an issue in both major parties. According to Mead, Republicans think the federal government is overstepping and prescribing what teachers should teach. Democrats feel that the policy was developed through an undemocratic process that benefits big corporations and that it has been poorly implemented, with little preparation for the teachers or students, he added.
Common Core has become a buzzword over the past month. In 2013, 62 percent of people polled nationwide had never heard about it; in 2014, 80 percent of those polled said they had heard about it, and 47 percent indicated they had heard a great deal or a fair amount, according to a PDK/Gallup poll. Opposition has increased hand in hand with awareness: five out of 10 New York State residents answered that the implementation should be stopped in New York, according to the latest Siena Poll.
Cuomo has been challenged about it multiple times during the campaign. In the Democratic Party primaries, Zephyr Teachout, professor at Fordham University, campaigned against Common Core implementation. Cuomo won the primary but still faces opposition on the Common Core, this time from his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, who has launched a “Stop Common Core” effort to rally voters against the cause.
After many months of not taking any clear stance on the matter, the Cuomo campaign released an ad on Monday pledging to “stop using Common Core scores for at least five years, and then only if our children are ready.” The campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
The implementation of the standards
Katie Lapham, a first grade teacher at P.S. 214 in Brooklyn, says she understands the benefits of standards as a framework that gives teachers “freedom to teach and students … freedom to learn,” but she strongly opposes the Common Core standards as they are.
“Our schools need smaller class sizes, common sense curriculum, teacher-created curriculum and teacher-created authentic performance based assessments, project based, meaningful, inspiring work,” she said, adding that New York State has created fixed curricula, instead of only giving a general set of goals.
Lapham, member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators caucus within New York State United Teachers, worries that the curricula do not help her students, adding that the ReadyGEN ELA English Language Arts program is “dull and uninspiring.”
“The vocab is not appropriate for the lower grades,” Lapham said. “Spending five to seven days closely reading a picture book is boring; an ineffective way to promote literacy.” She has many English-language learners in her class and is worried that taking a test that reflects negatively on their learning will impact their confidence and increase the number of dropouts.
Garth Wolkoff, a teacher at the High School for Public Service in Brooklyn, said that a set of standards that helps the students “be more analytical thinkers rather than to memorize … can’t be bad.” He likes the idea of teachers teaching less subject matter, but more in depth, giving students more analytical skills, but he finds the standards oppressive at the elementary school level.
The standards are “asking very young students like Lucy to read and do more math,” Wolkoff said, referring to his 6-year-old daughter. “Playtime has been taken out of kindergarten, for example, and she is learning ‘Common Core’ math.”
Parents and teachers are uniting to fight the Common Core tests. In April 2014, some teachers opted out of the test and many parents pulled their kids out of school the day of the test. Although there are no exact statistics yet, there were some 1,000 students who refused to take the math test in New York City, according to City Councilman Daniel Dromm. The Journal News reported that more than 3,000 students in the Lower Hudson Valley opted out, a fourfold increase compared with the previous year, according to the newspaper.
The MORE caucus within the teachers union is one of the most outspoken critics of the Common Core. The testing was “produced not by teachers, but by corporations,” MORE’s official statement reads. The movement argues that the standards “were written without meaningful teacher input, and educators do not have the freedom to use them as they see fit.”
Teachers and parents fear that the standards are too focused on “college and career readiness” to the detriment of “civic-mindedness, student health, and social and emotional growth,” according to the MORE statement.
Lapham said that, because of the emphasis on the tests, students “are not getting what they need both academically and emotionally.”
“If Cuomo is re-elected, expect more of the same,” Lapham added. “However, parents and teachers will continue to speak out. (The) grassroots movement is growing. Expect more and more opt-outs in the spring.”
Education standards are unlikely to be a decisive factor in the elections, but the Common Core will continue to be an issue in the political arena.
Domenic Recchia for Congress volunteers listening to Get Out the Vote strategy at a Brooklyn staging location. Recchia, a Democrat is running for New York’s 11th Congressional District, representing south Brooklyn and Staten Island. Photo by Zehra Rehman
By Zehra Rehman
“I’m tired,” Elaine Kateb heard over the intercom before it went silent. Kateb, 70, then went back down the apartment building’s stairs. She and many other volunteers had spent that rainy day ringing doorbells in their neighborhoods to persuade people to vote for Domenic Recchia.
The race for New York’s 11th Congressional District seat has been one of the most competitive in the current election cycle, although the latest poll by NY1/Capital New York/Siena College shows Republican Michael Grimm leading 53-34.
Grimm won his seat in 2010 by defeating a Democratic incumbent. Democrat Recchia is running against him to represent Staten Island and part of south Brooklyn. Grimm has the advantage of incumbency but has been indicted on 20 federal charges including tax evasion and fraud. Democrats have looked at this as an opportunity to win back the only Republican congressional seat in New York City.
The Recchia campaign is based in two offices in Staten Island and one in south Brooklyn. The Democratic Party has been strongly backing Recchia including providing resources such as campaign staff and political ads. The campaign is made up of a paid staff along with hundreds of volunteers. This includes a core group of regular volunteers who have been essential for the Recchia campaign. Ranging in age from 10 to 85 years old, they are motivated by a combination of idealism and a desire to see the incumbent defeated.
The Recchia campaign has divided its activities into three stages. The first phase, which ended on Oct. 10, was voter registration. The second stage is canvassing and persuading voters to choose Recchia. The last stage, from Nov. 1 to 4, is Get Out the Vote, during which the campaign will make about one-third of its total voter contact. The GOTV efforts will be launched from staging locations in Staten Island and Brooklyn. In these last four days, the campaign will receive volunteers from across the country including students, union members and congressional staffers. Until then, the campaign staff and their team of volunteers do all the work.
Daren Dowlat describes himself as “a volunteer who came in and never left.” He makes phone calls to get more volunteers, goes door to door to give voters information and carried out voter registration. Dowlat started volunteering while looking for a job in the information technology field. After working on the campaign, he is considering a change in career direction to “try to clean up politics.”
Because of a disability, 81-year-old Phyllis Masci is not able to go door to door. She comes to the campaign’s Brooklyn office three days a week to work the phone bank and recruit more volunteers. The rest of the week she makes phone calls from home. Her reasons for volunteering are a dislike of the incumbent and a belief that Recchia will be a good representative of her district in Washington.
“I know he will do a lot for the community. I know he will!” she emphasized.
Volunteer Pat Sanchez has been working on campaigns for decades, starting with fundraising for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. A staunch liberal from Bay Ridge, she wants “to get this neighborhood blue.” She was surprised that Grimm remained popular in Staten Island after a video surfaced of him threatening a reporter. A recent opinion poll also showed that 24 percent of Staten Island voters are less likely to vote for Recchia because he lives in Brooklyn. The majority of the voters in the district live in Staten Island, where Grimm lives.
With the race drawing increasing attention, volunteers are arriving from outside New York and even one from another continent. Quentin Lefevre came from Paris to volunteer for the Recchia campaign. “I love the things that he wanted to implement in New York,” he said of Recchia. Lefevre also hopes to learn from this campaign and apply the experience to French political campaigns.
With a contact rate of less than 10 percent, door-to-door canvassing is a tedious part of campaigning, and one where volunteers are most needed. “Canvassing is becoming more important. Usually it doesn’t change minds but it turns out votes,” said Steven Brams, professor of politics at New York University. As part of the canvassing, campaign staff and volunteers try to persuade potential voters to sign pledge cards, which increase voter turnout by 6 to 8 percent.
After weeks of making phone calls for the campaign, Kateb went door-to-door for the first time on Oct. 11. Even when she made contact with voters, many refused to talk. While joking about “being too old for this” and it being “as much fun as a root canal,” she rang doorbells across Bay Ridge. She volunteers for Recchia because she wants to “work with candidates in whom I believe” and because Grimm is facing criminal charges. Above all, she feels a civic duty to participate in the political process, pointing out that “people in other countries would die for the opportunity to vote.”
With days left until the Nov. 4 election, campaign staff and volunteers are putting all their energy into getting their candidate elected.
Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke with journalists after an event with Vice President Joe Biden in New York City on Oct. 20. Photo by Dennis Van Tine / ABACAUSA.com
By Carmen Cuesta Roca
A new political party will appear on ballots come Nov. 4: the Women’s Equality Party.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is the mastermind behind this creation, despite already belonging to the Democratic Party. The new group – an extension of his Women’s Equality Agenda, which the state legislature has not passed – has received mixed reviews not only from the Republican opposition, but also from women whose lives Cuomo proposes to better.
The 10-point Women’s Equality Agenda seeks to improve many aspects of women’s lives, including pay equity, access to abortion and protection for domestic abuse victims. The state legislature has not adopted any of the 10 points since Cuomo introduced them in January 2013.
With campaign season in full swing, Cuomo is once again promoting this agenda. The governor has visited Albany, Syracuse and Rochester in his tour bus, the “Women’s Equality Express.” He has also released a campaign ad with his three daughters and Sandra Lee, his girlfriend.
“New York State is the equality capital of the nation, but we still have more to do,” Cuomo said in a speech announcing the Women’s Equality Act. “Not everyone has reached full equality in our society.”
Gena Lovett, president of New York Women’s Agenda, supported Cuomo saying, “What is needed is a vigorous, collective effort to make New York the best place for women. Governor Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act will help make that a reality.”
Cuomo’s opposition disagrees. Zephyr Teachout, who lost to Cuomo in the Democratic primary, said, “A lot of times I just see it as half a million dollars to get the name ‘Women’s Equality Party’ next to ‘Andrew Cuomo’ on the ballot—a high-priced advertisement.”
New York has not updated its abortion laws since 1970. The access to abortion provision of Cuomo’s agenda would permit late-term abortions on the grounds of preserving the mother’s health, including emotional and psychological factors. The current law allows abortions after 24 weeks only in order to save the mother’s life.
Support for Cuomo comes from those who are thrilled finally to have a prominent elected official who isn’t running away from the more controversial women’s issues, such as access to abortion.
NARAL Pro-Choice New York has publicly endorsed Cuomo. Tara Sweeney, director of communications for the organization, said, “It is absolutely right and necessary that he championed a bill and a provision that will improve women’s lives and set a precedent for the kinds of legislation we should be passing.”
The anti-abortion community has spoken out against the bill. Executive director of NYS Right to Life, Lori Kehoe, said, “It makes clear the reality that this abortion ‘rights’ movement cares as little about women as they do about children.”
The Women’s Equality Agenda has been a hallmark of Cuomo’s work from the beginning of this legislative session, and “that stayed exactly the same when he transitioned into campaign mode,” according to Sweeney.
Under New York election law, candidates can run on multiple party lines, allowing their names to appear more than once on the ballot. Electoral fusion occurs when two or more political parties list the same candidate, pooling the votes and giving minor parties more influence over the results.
With the creation of this new party, the governor will appear on four ballot lines on Election Day: Women’s Equality, Democratic, Independence and Working Families. The last of these parties endorsed Cuomo after he suggested undoing his previous refusal to support a Democratic takeover of the Senate leadership. Cuomo said in a video shown during the Working Families Party convention in June, “To make this agenda a reality, we must change the Senate leadership.”
Cuomo recently endorsed his first Democratic candidate for the State Senate, Adrienne Esposito. But at a rally on Oct. 11, she was not offered a speaking spot. The rally promoted the Women’s Equality Party, a ballot line on which Esposito will not appear.
Supporters of Teachout issued a statement opposing the Women’s Equality Party: “This new party is not for women; instead it is using women for political play.”
Cuomo has exhibited strong leadership on same-sex marriage and gun control, but his economic policies have not always been favorable to women. Earlier this year he blocked New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to raise the city’s minimum wage. More than six in 10 of those workers are women, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Women are also the majority of workers in the hospitals that Cuomo has allowed to close.
Caron Gentry , an expert in feminist theory and gender studies who taught at Abilene Christian University in Texas and is now a lecturer at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said, “I think it’s great to raise awareness about issues, but if it is a ploy or a manipulation, then there is a problem in that the issue of gender is not understood in all its complexity or the promises will be abandoned.”
Customers convene around a stand selling Russian produce along Brighton Beach Avenue. On Nov. 4 residents of Brighton Beach, New York, will be called to decide who will be their next representative in the 45th District of the New York State Assembly. Photo by Ilaria Parogni
By Ilaria Parogni
In the 45th District of the New York State Assembly, Russian votes are a hot commodity.
This is, after all, the heart of Brighton Beach, that little corner of New York that is all borscht and matryoshka dolls, where one is more likely to hear “nyet” than “no” and “privyet” than “hello.” It is here that Steven Cymbrowitz, lower house representative for the district since 2000, will face the Russian American Ben Akselrod in the Nov. 4 elections.
Under these circumstances, transcending language barriers becomes essential – both for the voters and for the politicians. This might explain why Cymbrowitz is simultaneously engaged in what he defines as an “ongoing battle” with the New York State Board of Elections, which has consistently opposed his campaign to translate voting materials into Russian due to the financial cost it would entail.
Ensuring that elections are accessible to Russian speakers, however, is crucial in Cymbrowitz’s district, which comprises some of the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of Russian-speaking immigrants in the country, from Brighton Beach to Sheepshead Bay. “What we want to do is getting as many people to vote as possible. If language makes it easier for them to partake in the American system of voting, then we should do everything we can. We should encourage people to vote,” the assemblyman says.
The American Community Survey (ACS) estimates that 83,249 people born in Russia resided in New York State in 2013. Among them, 62,021 held U.S. citizenship. Russian is the fourth most spoken language in the state, after English, Spanish and Chinese. Yet, more than half of the Russian population cannot be considered fluent in English.
Under federal law, this is not enough for Russian speakers to obtain language support during election time. According to Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, minority language assistance, from translated ballots to on-site interpreters, is provided in accordance with the determinations of the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2011, the bureau identified Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Bengali as the four groups qualifying for assistance for the state of New York. Yet, naturalized Koreans are fewer than Russians with U.S. citizenship and are more likely to be proficient in English, according to the ACS.
If the integration of the Russian community into the electoral process is truly the aim of Cymbrowitz’s campaign, he seems to be in tune with the most politically and socially active Russian Americans in New York. Having taken to heart the objective of increasing engagement among their highly insulated community, various organizations and people work daily to overcome the language barriers.
Russian-language radio channels, such as Davidzon Radio, keep the Russian American community informed with political analysis programs, while civic engagement seminars and English language classes are offered by organizations such as Shore Front Y, a Jewish community center with a significant Russian component. Their efforts might just be paying off: In talking with numerous Russian speakers in the district, not a single one expressed unease at taking part in the electoral process due to language difficulties.
Nevertheless, Cymbrowitz has turned the language access issue into a significant part of his political agenda. In 2012, he supported a bill that would have required the city of New York to translate into Russian “all information that is provided […] in English about the electoral process,” including ballots and registration documents. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo later vetoed the bill on the recommendation of the general counsel of the Board of Elections in the City of New York, Steven H. Richman, who opposed the measure citing financial difficulties.
“We thought that this would be the beginning of translating all the documents into Russian, but the New York City Board of Elections said that (it) didn’t have money to do the translation,” Cymbrowitz recalls. The bill was an expansion of a 2009 measure, also sponsored by the assemblyman, which was signed into law by Governor David Paterson and which mandated the provision of electoral information online and in print.
Cymbrowitz is not alone in calling for ballots and registration forms to be made available in Russian. In March 2013, Bill de Blasio, now New York’s mayor, urged Frederic M. Umane, president of the New York City Board of Elections executive office, to prioritize the translating of ballots, signs and other materials in Brooklyn into the language. “Failing to provide this growing population with voting materials in Russian has the potential to disenfranchise thousands of voters,” he wrote in a letter to Umane.
Vladimir Epshteyn, president of the Russian-American Voters Educational League, has joined the campaign for passage of the 2012 bill. “Every year we are asking… we are demanding the assembly and the state senate to allocate money to implement the decision,” he says.
Epshteyn has been involved in civic initiatives in New York since 1997. Every year he and a team of volunteers translate electoral materials into Russian.
Similarly, Dmitri Glinski, president of the Russian-Speaking Community Council of Manhattan & the Bronx, testified in August in front of the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s Voter Assistance Advisory Committee. He asked the board to apply the provisions envisioned in the 2012 bill and described the language barrier as “the biggest challenge to Russian speakers’ voter participation.”
Consideration of the elderly often is at the center of this advocacy. For many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the English-language proficiency requirement for citizenship was waived under medical and age exemptions. Others passed the test, but, having settled in a heavily Russian-speaking district, they rarely had the chance to practice their English.
“Most of these things we are trying to do as per language are for our seniors,” Cymbrowitz says.
Walking around the district, however, one might get a different impression. Ivetta Popechenko, a Russian-speaking senior citizen, says she will absolutely take part in the elections. Does she speak English? “Not at all,” she says. “If I don’t understand something, I have children who speak perfectly, and they will help me.”
Sofia Goroshek, a retiree from Moldova who has lived in New York for the past 22 years, says that the language of the voting materials “basically doesn’t matter.”
Politicians often find alternative ways to reach out to the community. Some hire campaign staff keeping in mind the Russian constituency. Cymbrowitz boasts full-time Russian-speaking staff, while also sending out all of his campaign literature and newsletters in both Russian and English.
Elections may be competitive, but politicians and activists seem to have found common ground in their attempt to accommodate the Russian-speaking voters, ensuring they can vote while remaining comfortably inside their Russian bubble. Occasionally, however, someone will venture outside the bubble.
Moldovan-born Alexander Daich, 88, takes pride in having voted in elections ever since becoming a U.S. citizen more than 20 years ago. To keep informed, he reads the New York Post. “Truth to be told, I am an American retiree.”