ELECTIONS

Volunteers hit the streets as York County voters head to the polls

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Yoseny Aracena votes to give a voice to her community.

As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and new American citizen, the 28-year-old was proud to walk through the double doors of Fourth United Methodist Church and cast a ballot for the very first time.

As a community liaison for CASA York, Aracena not only exercised her right to vote — but stood in cold temperatures to ensure York's Spanish-speaking population was provided the same right to vote, too.

Yosemy Aracena, 28, of York City, voted for the very first time on Nov. 8, 2022. Aracena is a new U.S. citizen and immigrant from the Dominican Republic, who now works at CASA as a community liaison. Tina Locurto photo.

"I really feel that this was very important because people like my parents only speak Spanish," Aracena said. "It's really important for Latinos to make sure that they can make the changes in their community. They can help the community to become better."

A small band of volunteers met at CASA York's headquarters early Tuesday morning to prepare for a day of voter assistance.

As members sipped on coffee and munched on frosted donuts, CASA senior director of membership Maria del Carmen Gutierrez laid out the framework for how members should approach certain situations. Aside from welcoming voters and celebrating their presence, CASA volunteers were asked to fill out forms ensuring each polling location had sufficient Spanish-language ballots, translators and signage.

Yosemy Aracena (left) and Daniel Alvalle (right) walk to the Appell Center polling location on Nov. 8, 2022. Tina Locurto photo.

In the morning, volunteers split off into small groups to tackle different polling locations in York City and greater York County.

Aracena was joined by Daniel Alvalle and Isabel Caceres to tackle York City's polls. The three packed into Aracena's Toyota and were off to the first location – eager to meet voters and assist where necessary.

"Language access was something that wasn't guaranteed for people," Alvalle said. "So with the language access and ensuring that it's working, it better ensures that people have the accessibility to vote in a language in which they understand."

More:York County reaches agreement over bilingual poll workers, sample ballots

Only weeks prior to Election Day, CASA filed a lawsuit alleging the York County Board of Elections had not done enough for Spanish-language speakers in the county.

In response, York County agreed to make bilingual sample ballots available at every precinct and provide additional interpreters for Tuesday's election, thus lifting — at least for now — the threat of a preliminary injunction by several voting rights groups.

Ballot access is a crucial question in a 2022 election that could see a number of close races, including for U.S. Senate and the 10th Congressional District. Polls in those contests showed narrow margins separating Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, and Republican TV personality Mehmet Oz. The most recent poll — conducted in August — showed Harrisburg City Councilperson Shamaine Daniels, a Democrat and Venezuelan immigrant, leading incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry by three percentage points.

As far as Aracena's group could observe, York City polling places had followed the rules. At the polling places they visited Tuesday morning, interpreters and Spanish language ballots were made available.

As CASA volunteers posed with voters and snapped photos, Aracena helped one elderly gentleman with voting.

York City resident Guillermo Familia voted at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts voting location on Nov. 8, 2022. Tina Locurto photo.

York City resident Guillermo Familia sought assistance on specific language needs from CASA's group, who assured him there was a translator inside able to help him.

Afterward, members cheered him on and encouraged Familia to take a photo with his "I voted" sticker.

"The voices of voters is valuable," Alvalle said. "Offering them the opportunity to be able to understand who they're voting for and to have that in a language in which they understand."

Pennsylvania's polls will close at 8 p.m. Those in line at that time should remain in line because they can still vote.

York County officials announced Monday that they would not try to "cure" — or fix minor errors, such as date — in mail-in ballots. Instead, the public must check the status of their ballots online and, if there's a problem, vote in person using a provisional ballot.

To find your polling place, visit the York County Elections website at https://yorkcountypa.gov/503/Elections-Voter-Registration. Voters can track absentee or mail-in ballots at www.pavoterservices.pa.gov/pages/ballottracking.aspx.

Reporter Matt Enright contributed to this report.