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NY county says in Spanish that election is Nov. 9

Jim Fitzgerald

A suburban New York county sent an official mailer telling thousands of voters in Spanish that Election Day is Nov. 9, then spent the weekend making automated calls to alert people to the mistake.

A Hispanic organization's director said some voters still might be confused.

"I think most people do know when Election Day is, but if you get an official letter from the Board of Elections that tells you another day, you might be confused," said Grace Heymann, director of the Westchester Hispanic Coalition.

"I would especially worry about first-time voters," she said. "We have been working hard to get out the vote, and we are getting some questions because of this letter."

The mailing, about the availability of ballot marking devices used by disabled voters, was in English and Spanish. The English part was correct, but the Spanish section said Election Day was Nov. 9 instead of Nov. 4.

Reginald Lafayette, a commissioner with the county elections board, said 500,000 copies of an almost identical letter went out before the Sept. 9 primary and was used as a template for the November election letter, which was also supposed to go to all registered voters in the county.

"We instructed the printer to change the date from Sept. 9 to Nov. 4, but the 9 didn't get changed," Lafayette said. "We actually caught it when most of the letters were still on the truck (to the post office). We called the post office and said, `Don't mail those,' but as many as 20,000 were sent out."

"It wasn't even a letter we had to send out," he said. "We thought we were being proactive in a good way and now this is getting so much attention. Mistakes happen, we regret it, and we apologize."

Heymann said she did not believe the mistake was anyone's attempt to disenfranchise Hispanic voters.

County spokeswoman Victoria Hochman said calls in English and Spanish were made this weekend to correct the mistake.

The office of U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia would not directly address the error on the letter but noted that since 2005, Westchester has been under a federal consent decree ensuring that Spanish-speaking voters get bilingual assistance at the polls. Federal monitors will be available throughout Election Day, the office said.

The Associated Press