Interpreting the vote

Pia Peterson for Columbia Radio

New York State federally mandates that interpreters be provided in areas where there is a significant population that speaks a language other than English. For New York City, where over 40 percent of residents are foreign born, the languages are Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Bengali and Russian, for written documents only. Any and all documents associated with voting are translated and distributed by the board of elections and other nonprofits that focus on reaching non-English speaking populations and making sure they know that they have a right to vote.

Sonia Ponce grew up with Spanish as a first language, and she learned English at school. Now she works downtown year round at the Board of Elections as a translator, as well as hitting the streets to help voters on election day. She says that anything that “you see on the website, ballots, voter registration, telephone prompts, pretty much anything you see” is translated and distributed across the boroughs. For her, working as an interpreter is about empowerment as much as it is about casting a ballot.