New York Counties’ Voting Requirements: Planning for the 2020 US Election

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While all eyes are on who’s running for president in the 2020 US Election, New York counties are focusing on how their polling stations are running.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020, the day New Yorkers hit the polls, is approaching faster than a Noah Syndergaard fastball for the Mets. 

During the 2018 Fall midterm election, the statewide voter turnout in New York was 34% – one of the lowest in the country. It’s an unfortunate reality for the fourth largest state in the U.S., leading into the presidential election.

One major aspect that New York counties will have to address is the two million New Yorkers who aren’t fluent in English, and who will need access to an electronic voting machine in their mother tongue.

New York courts have provided interpreting services for 115 languages (Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Haitian Creole, Khmer, Nepali, Pashtu, Swahili, Toisan, Malayalam, Mixteco, Tagalog and Urdu to name a few). 

But the polls are a bit slower in providing that same access for residents’ entitled voting information. Russian must be provided to voters only in cities with more than a million residents and a new act was just introduced in 2019 to offer Haitian Creole (one of the state’s largest non-english languages) voting materials.

The 62 New York counties should already be preparing for a highly-dissected presidential election, meaning there are a few things they’ll need to have in order to make sure their election stations are good to go for all voters.

Fret not, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of everything you need to provide for voters of every language.

In this piece, we’ll explain:

  • Federal and state laws that require action by each county
  • Voting requirements New York counties need to be familiar with 
  • The most spoken languages in New York State
  • The challenges New York counties are up against to provide voting information for their most in-demand languages
  • The difficulty counties face in hiring and recording voice actors in a variety of languages
  • How you can quickly and easily overcome these challenges, to meet the requirements and positively impact voter turnout

Help America Vote Act

Everything New York counties do for their voters should be viewed through the lens of the Help America Vote Act.

In 2002, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed by the United States Congress to address improvements to voting technology and help with voter access. 

U.S. Congress passed the act after the 2000 Presidential Election, where some major logistical and accessibility issues arose.

This act initially helped provide some required standards, including: 

  • Provisional Voting
  • Voting Information
  • Updated and Upgraded Voting Technology Equipment
  • Statewide Voter Registration Databases
  • Voter Identification Procedures
  • Administrative Complaint Procedures
  • Federal funding to help states update voting equipment and meet new requirements

It was required by January 1, 2006, that every precinct in the U.S. must have at least one voting machine or system that is accessible for voters with disabilities and language barriers.


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New York Voting Requirements 

The New York Constitution 

The New York Constitution states “every citizen shall be entitled to vote at every election”.

New York State Help America Vote Act (HAVA) – State Implementation Plan

The state of New York’s HAVA implementation plan says “New York counties will ensure people who are blind, persons using a wheelchair, the hearing impaired, persons with developmental disabilities, individuals with language barriers, and the elderly will all not have to overcome barriers to exercise their right to vote”.

New York Election Law

Under New York law, a board of inspectors at a polling site must help any voter who, under oath, states a need for assistance because he/she: 

  • cannot read and therefore requires assistance
  • cannot, even with the aid of glasses, see the names printed on the official ballot 
  • is so physically handicapped that he/she cannot do what is needed to vote at that polling place (e.g. turn down the levers, use a write-in slot on a voting machine or mark a paper ballot)
  • cannot enter a voting booth unless aided by another person. 

The voter can elect to be helped by a person of his/her choice, aside from an employer (or employer’s agent) or agent of the voter’s union. If the voter does not select a specific person, he/she will be assisted by two election inspectors, each from a different party.

Language Access Assistance 

In New York State, if you are a Limited English Proficient (LEP) person, depending on the county, you can be entitled to have assistance at the polls. Under Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act, seven counties are required to provide language access services during elections: 

  • Bronx (Hispanic) 
  • Kings (Hispanic and Chinese
  • Nassau (Hispanic) 
  • New York (Hispanic and Chinese) 
  • Queens (Asian Indian – Bengali, Chinese, Hispanic, and Korean
  • Suffolk (Hispanic) 
  • Westchester (Hispanic) 

All registration, voting notices, forms, instructions, written materials, information and ballots related to the election must be provided in the above languages.

Also to note, Under Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, New York counties or jurisdictions are prohibited from denying any citizen educated in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories (American Flag schools) the right to vote because of their lack of English proficiency.

New York State Assembly

In early 2018, the New York State Assembly passed legislation to increase accessibility for voters and modernize polling sites. 

“It is past time that we modernize New York’s antiquated system by creating a streamlined online registration process to ensure greater accessibility,” Assembly member Michael Cusick said of the legislation. 

Audio Over Voting Information

The above information means New York counties need to be able to offer audio information in multiple languages for voters in a variety of formats including: 

  • Candidate Statements
  • Measures
  • Electronic Voting Machines

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Electronic Voting Systems in New York

There are three electronic voting systems primarily used by New York counties. They are the Imagecast, the ES&S DS200 and the ES&S Automark systems. 

Albany, Erie, Nassau, New York City, Rockland and Schenectady counties all use the ES&S Automark, while the other 52 New York counties use the Imagecast system.

Each electronic voting system has to include the electronic version of all election content for English and non-English speakers. 

The electronic version of the election content includes a PDF file to read, plus the voice over audio files for each provided language. The candidate statements, as well as all the measures or laws they’re voting on), need to be made accessible in an audio format with each provided language.

An 8-bit audio recording file is required for the election voting systems.

Every electronic voting screen has a touchscreen included and every button provides audio in the selected language for the user. Voters simply push the button and the machine reads the options to the user in their selected language.

Most Spoken Languages in New York State

There are over 150 different languages that are spoken in the Empire State by more than 19 million people in New York counties, according to the United States Census Bureau. 

And more than five million residents speak a language other than English.

But what are the most common non-English languages? 

2.8 million people in New York State speak Spanish at home. That’s 15% of the total population and 2% higher than the average in the U.S.

2.6% (472,955 people) speak Cantonese and Mandarin, 1.20% (216,468 people) speak Russian and 1.18% (213,785 people) speak Italian.

Much like California, New York counties need to prioritize their Spanish-speaking communities. 

To learn more about California, you can read here about how important the 2020 US election is for America’s largest state and the multi-lingual voice over requirements California counties need to implement by March, 2020.

It’s equally important all New York counties know the most spoken languages by their residents to be able to provide them the voting information they need, the way they need it. 

New York County Election Challenges

During the 2018 midterms, New York was the only state to hold separate state and federal primary elections, which stymied voter turnout. Early voting, voting by mail and same-day voter registration, all standard voting policies in almost every other state these days, were still not offered by New York counties. 

Thankfully, a voting reform package was recently passed by lawmakers to get the state up to speed. 

Now, what is the next frontier New York counties face? Ensuring their voting stations are equipped for non-English speaking residents to cast their ballot. 

That means every county’s electronic voting machines are equipped with the most in-demand languages spoken in their region. If New York counties are going to put a dent in the notorious voter turnout numbers, they’re going to need to make multi-lingual and multi-format (visual and audio) voter information a priority.


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Election Voice Over Recording Process

Two of the largest hurdles to complying with voter laws include sourcing authentic native speakers of each language, as well as managing the recording schedules and file delivery for each recording. Sourcing a native speaker is highly-advisable, as not only will their delivery be flawless, they’ll also be able to provide input on how the information would be phrased correctly in that language. 

Locating voice actors, as well as managing the recordings, can be an incredible additional workload for already overworked and short-staffed New York county officials. 

However, more and more counties are finding success by sourcing their voice over actors through online voice over platforms. On these platforms, counties can quickly find the voice actors who are fluent in a wide variety of languages, thanks to a global talent pool and internal staff willing to help with the process.

The extra workload is taken off the county’s hands, leaving the online voice over platform to manage sourcing, filtering, paying, processing and other administrative duties. Allowing the counties to focus their precious time on other priorities. 

Find Voice Actors For Elections

We’re less than a year away from the 2020 US Election. 

New York counties are facing a ton of pressure to rectify the notoriously low voter turnouts. Ensuring voting information is in the most commonly spoken, non-English languages of New Yorkers will surely shift those numbers. 

Most counties are leaving their multi-lingual electronic voting information scripts until the last minute. Don’t let your county be one of them. Once you have a list of the languages your county needs, you can receive custom auditions in just minutes when you post your job to the Voices.com database of over 200,000 voice actors. Using our Full-Service option also means all the actor, project, and file management will be entirely taken care of for you.

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