New York City is sending additional translators to 100 poll sites on Election Day, a move that its own Board of Elections (BOE) tried and failed to block in court. At sites in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, there will be language interpreters covering five languages in addition to those offered by the board.

Federal law requires the city’s BOE to provide language support in Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Bengali. At the designated sites, translators will also offer help in Haitian Creole, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish.

These enhanced language services come after the city Board of Elections sued to block the interpreters from poll sites -- and lost.

Last February, election officials hired outside counsel to sue the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Chief Democracy Officer to prevent the city from stationing language access interpreters inside certain selected poll sites for the February 26th, 2019 special election for public advocate and all future elections. City BOE officials argued that the additional interpreters might influence the political process, and wanted them to stay more than 100 feet away from poll site entrances because they were not trained or vetted by the agency.

A day before the election, the court denied the Board’s request.

The Board then entered an amended complaint in June arguing that the city’s interpreter program violated the New York State Constitution. There’s a provision in the constitution that requires elections be conducted by a bipartisan agency and that city rules cannot override state election law or the federal Voting Rights Act.

Judge Edgar Walker rejected that argument, writing in his decision that the Board failed “to explain how the elimination of the Interpreter Program would not, in effect, disenfranchise voters.”

The Democracy NYC initiative was started in 2018 to give New Yorkers more access to voting and ways to participate in their government. “Language access is one of those ways,” said Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, the city’s first Chief Democracy Officer, who was a defendant in the city BOE’s lawsuit. Initially, she reached out to the city BOE to try to figure out how they could work together to expand their respective language access programs, but faced a wall of resistance.

She described this decision as an important reminder to the city’s election administrators that federal law sets only a minimum for what access is required and that municipalities can go further based on what’s needed in their community.

“We hope that what this does is that is sets an example for the Board of what it can and should be doing,” added Bitta Mostofi, the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner. She said election officials should consider the diversity of the city’s voting population, with over 200 languages spoken here and nearly 40 percent of the population foreign born.

Susanne Katchko, a professional linguist, will be serving as a Yiddish interpreter in Williamsburg on Tuesday. It’s the third year she’s worked at a poll site during an election. She said interpreters must attend several hours of training before they can work at the polls. In those sessions, the interpreters are told emphatically that their job is only to assist a voter with understanding the ballot.

“We were told to absolutely never express an opinion,” said Katchko. She added, “When asked who we are voting for we’re to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m only here to interpret. I can’t respond to that question.’”

Katchko said, to her, this is about helping all eligible voters participate in democracy. “I’m just very grateful to be part of providing full access for New York City citizens so they can all vote with full information.”

Polls will be open on Tuesday across the city from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. Find your Election Day poll site and see what’s on your ballot here.

Brigid Bergin is the City Hall and politics reporter for WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @brigidbergin.