Saturday, May 16, 2009

Questions For Luzerne County's Election Chief

Staff writers for the Standard Speaker reported that Director of Elections Leonard Piazza feels that bilingual ballots will be needed in Hazleton after the 2010 election.

The growing Hispanic population, especially in Hazleton, will likely force the county to generate bilingual ballots after the 2010 census is done, Piazza said. If the U.S. Census shows that at least 4 percent of the voting-age population in a polling precinct is not proficient in English, then bilingual ballots for the entire municipality are required, Piazza said.

Piazza predicts a few precincts in Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre and Pittston Township will reach the qualifying percentage. But even if it’s one precinct only, all voting machines in the county will be equipped with the Spanish ballot; Piazza said the county can’t buy the Spanish ballot software for just one area.

The next part of the article is extremely interesting.

Piazza disclosed the county election bureau is starting an outreach program for Spanish-speaking voters Sunday with a meeting in Hazleton.

The meeting is tentatively set for 2 to 4 p.m. at Concerned Parents of the Hazleton Area, Suite 112, 100 W. Broad St., Piazza said. He said he will discuss issues involving Tuesday’s election, as well as future issues, that concern Hispanic voters.

“We want to gather input from the Latino community,” Piazza said. “What the election bureau is doing right — and what it might be doing wrong.”

On Tuesday, every polling place in Hazleton will have a person to assist voters in Spanish, Piazza said. These designated “watchers” will have credentials to help assist voters with limited English skills and are prohibited from telling voters whom to support when voting, Piazza said.

Ignatio Beato announced his candidacy for one of three seats up for election on Hazleton's City Council. According to his announcement Beato is co-founder and vice president of the Concerned Parents of Hazleton.

Mr. Piazza, how can you allow poll watchers from a particular group tied to a candidate act as translators? What disadvantage will exist for the other candidates if the group tells people requiring language assistance how to vote? Why was one candidate invited to this meeting and not all the candidates?

Last election many infractions were observed in Hazleton. Assistance for the Hispanic community was being provided at the polls without requiring persons making the request to fill out a voter assistance declaration. In addition it was observed that as many as five people were helping a single voter. It is alleged that bilingual poll watchers were telling Hispanics how to vote. Provisional ballots were not employed when persons could not produce the proper ID.

Interpreters were approaching people inside the polling place to offer "unsolicited" assistance without the voter making a proper request to the Judge of Elections.

From the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania: No person is allowed to receive assistance in voting unless his/her registration record indicates the need for assistance or the voter completes and signs a declaration of the need for assistance at the polling place prior to entering the voting machine booth.

According to the Chester County Democrats All watchers in the polling place must remain outside the enclosed space. (enclosed space รข€“ 6 feet from voting machines, ballot box, and election officials work area).

Read this document from the Pennsylvania Voters Coalition. At the top of page 7 it indicates an example of the need for better training of poll watchers. Partisan poll watchers were allowed to be too near the voting machines.

Mr. Piazza are there different rules for Luzerne County?

A concerned citizen has approached me with the following information. Elaine Curry, Hazleton Area School Board member and activist with Concerned Parents, allegedly approached a candidate to put the person's name on her slate cards for candidates she supports. It is alleged that she promised 800 to 1000 votes as an inducement for the prospective candidate. It is claimed that she would accomplish that feat by having poll watchers act as interpreters inside the poll.

Mr. Piazza, Ignatio Beato, candidate, is vice president of Concerned Parents of the Hazleton Area. You issued watcher certificates to this group who will now be inside the polling place. The article states you claim these "watchers" are prohibited from telling voters how to vote. Do you honestly feel that the average voter believes that those watchers will not use the opportunity to push Curry's slate?

Judges of election are not proficient in Spanish to detect any wrongdoing by errant watchers. What steps are you going to take to ensure the integrity of the vote so candidates are not at a disadvantage? With all the problems in Luzerne County do we need one more slap against our reputation?

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