Voting Poses Challenges to Storm-Battered Russian Immigrants

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Aaron Schachter: This is The World. I am Aaron Schachter in Boston.

Marco Werman: And I am Marco Werman in London.

Schachter: Well, Election Day is finally here and, by all accounts, the outcome of the presidential race will be very, very close. This explains why GOP candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan made a last-minute visit to Ohio today, as did Vice-President Joe Biden before flying to Chicago to join President Obama. Later in the program, we're going to hear about how the U.S. election is being watched in other parts of the globe, but we begin our coverage closer to home in New York. Many wondered how the voting would go in areas devastated by super storm Sandy. The storm-battered immigrant neighborhood of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn is a good place to try and find out. The majority of residents there are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Many are elderly and still don't have electricity or heat in their homes. Even so, voters did turn up today at the Shorefront Jewish Community Center in Brighton Beach. Twenty-seven-year-old Vadim Drel, an immigrant from Moldova, is working as a poll watcher there.

Vadim Drel: From where I'm standing right now, I can actually see the ocean and the polling place is next to me, so this area got hit pretty badly. Many of the apartment buildings here are multi-storey. We're talking towers of 10, 20 floors with no power, which means many people are just stuck at home because they are wheelchair-bound or are unable to make it up and down 20-something flights of stairs, if necessary.

Schachter: Drel says the polling station has been very crowded today, and loud, which has made for a very confusing voting experience for many. But, Fanya Vasilevskaya, the election coordinator there, told me the more serious problem is the lack of help for the area's Russian-speaking residents.

Fanya Yasilevskaya: We do have problems with voters who are turned away because they could not speak English. I have at least, maybe 30 percent right now of people who are just leaving the voter buildings and they say, "We cannot do it because we don't have help." Usually we have the Democrat and the Republican come in and help them, but now we don't have these because of the shortage of poll workers.

Schachter: And translators and things like that.

Yasilevskaya: Yeah…oh, translators. We don't have any literature in Russian. We don't have any translators and the whole district is suffering.

Schachter: Vadim Drel thinks what's happening at the polling places today highlights a larger problem. He says the city of New York has to do more for the residents of Brighton Beach.

Drel: I would say the city itself hasn�t done enough at all in this area, at least with the senior population that is not able to communicate in English, regardless the elections, just to dealing with the devastation.

Schachter: Do you feel like people have been treated differently, that the immigrants got short shrift after the storm?

Drel: I think the issue here is that in the American system, as wonderful as it is and I'm a big fan, you're required to be an active participant. Due to their language barrier, they are just simply unable to reach out. And further, they don't know whom to reach out to because many of these people are coming from a different political system and they are just not used to the idea that you can call and ask for help. Their mentality, their mental attitude is that the government is supposed to provide in cases of emergency.

Schachter: That was Vadim Drel, an immigrant from Moldova and, today, a poll watcher in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.