Eric Schneiderman

Eric Schneiderman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This evening, I came across this Associated Press report on Liz Benjamin’s State of Politics blog about New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sending letters to 10 upstate counties advising them to accommodate Spanish-speaking voters from Puerto Rico as required by federal law. What’s significant about the letters is that Schneiderman’s action may give Senate Democrats an edge in upstate counties with significant PR/Hispanic voters.
AP reported: AG tells 10 NY counties to help bilingual voters
Letters by Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke to the counties’ election commissioners said the Voting Rights Act requires jurisdictions with significant numbers of Puerto Rican residents with limited English to ensure they can vote. Measures include making all voting materials and ballots available in Spanish and having Spanish-language interpreters available at polling places.

The law applies to citizens educated in American flag schools in Puerto Rico who are categorized as limited-English proficient.

The letters noted that counties without effective plans could face civil liability. Several had lacked Spanish translations on their websites. The counties are Erie, Monroe, Rockland, Dutchess, Ulster, Chautauqua, Schenectady, Sullivan, Montgomery and Putnam. Read more: AG tells 10 NY counties to help bilingual voters

This AP report seems to signal that AG Schneiderman has found a way of stepping into the political fray this November. I believe Schneiderman has found a way to gin up Hispanic (read Democratic) voter turnout in Republican senate districts to help his former colleagues regain the GOP majority.

Schneiderman is cleverly applying a federal statute that until April 2012 wasn’t applied outside of NYC in 30 years. Back in April, Orange County signed a consent decree accepting Section 4(e) and Section 203 minority language rights coverage because the Hispanic (not just the Puerto Rican) population in the county had grown to over 29,210 people.

Section 4(e) of the federal VRA was written to apply to Puerto Ricans born and educated on the island back when NYC had a literacy test for persons who couldn’t prove they completed the 9th grade. A federal court struck down the NYC literacy test and in 1978, Congress added protections for language minorities.

The order by AG Schneiderman will apply to Puerto Ricans as well as all other Spanish-speaking voters who will benefit from bilingual ballots and voter information. That should spur additional turnout for Obama and Senate Dems.

It’s a clever move by a Democrat who was one of the architects behind the Senate Democrats plan to recapture the majority. Finally, when providence brought the 2008 Obama landslide, then-Senator Schneiderman and his fellow Democrats took over the majority. Those giddy days lasted until the defection of Espada and Monserrate. In 2010, voters returned the Senate Republicans to power.

In my view, Schneiderman is filling the political leadership breech left open by Governor Cuomo‘s constant demurrals about the desirability of a Democratic majority.

Recently, Schneiderman praised Governor Cuomo new online voter registration system for expanding voter participation. He presciently added,

“In this election year, too many states are making it more difficult to vote when they should be making it easier. Over generations, Americans have torn down barriers to voting in order to make our democracy more inclusive, and our government more representative of all its citizens. My office will be vigilant in protecting the right to vote and aggressive in carrying on the American tradition of tearing down barriers to full voter participation.”

Today’s letter to those ten counties is certainly an aggressive move tearing down one barrier to full voter participation by Spanish-speaking Americans. His action, however, possibly tips the balance of power and the majority in the State Senate to the Democrats. Every one of those ten counties has a vulnerable Republican state senator.

While assailing the GOP in neighboring states for pursuing Voter ID laws and voter suppression, Schneiderman quietly figures out how to use the law to expand access for minority voters. Clever. Very clever.

Have your say.

Is AG Eric Schneiderman filling a Democratic leadership vacuum created by Gov. Cuomo’s silence regarding a Democratic state senate majority?