Press Release

AALDEF and local Asian American community secure commitment from Malden, MA to provide Chinese language assistance in compliance with Voting Rights Act

Image for AALDEF and local Asian American community secure commitment from Malden, MA to provide Chinese language assistance in compliance with Voting Rights Act
A sign in Chinese and English outside a voting station in Malden, Massachusetts on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Malden qualifies for bilingual voting materials under federal law because of its large Chinese-speaking population. Credit: Amy Yee/NBC News.

MALDEN, MASSACHUSETTS — Today, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), in partnership with a coalition of local Asian American community organizations, reached a settlement with the City of Malden to resolve the city’s failure to provide Chinese language information and assistance in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. The community groups that form the coalition include the Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition, Chinese Progressive Association, Chinatown Community Land Trust, Massachusetts Voter Table, Asian Community Development Corporation, Asian Pacific Islanders Civic Action Network (APIs CAN!), and the Asian Outreach Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services.

Malden is required to provide translated ballots, voting materials, and oral language assistance in Chinese. The Director of the Census designated Malden under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act in 2016 because the Chinese-speaking population had reached a certain threshold.

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson signed a Memorandum of Understanding to provide a comprehensive Chinese language election program.

“AALDEF commends the mayor’s commitment to meeting the needs of Chinese-speaking voters in Malden through his decisive resolve to reach this Memorandum of Understanding. The MOU provides an enforceable legal framework for Malden’s compliance with Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act and reflects the inspiring and longstanding civic engagement of the community coalition,” said Susana Lorenzo-Giguere, associate director of AALDEF’s Democracy Program. “With this agreement, Chinese American voters in Malden, the community coalition, and the city, have a roadmap for achieving equality at the polls for the upcoming midterm elections and beyond.”

In the 2021 general election, AALDEF and community partners observed that Malden’s polling places with the highest concentrations of Chinese speaking voters lacked the required bilingual poll workers and bilingual signage. Voters were unable to vote for their candidate of choice or vote an informed ballot without the language assistance they needed. Some important election information on the city’s election website was not translated and the information that was translated was erroneous and misleading. For example, the translation of “Vote by Mail Application”, referred instead to a phone “app” and “election wards” was translated as “hospital wards.”

“This victory for the voting rights of the Chinese American community of Malden is a victory for all our communities. It is the result of years of collaboration with the community organizations of Malden and the greater Boston area and demonstrates the power that we have when we work together,” said Jodie Ng, staff attorney in the Asian Outreach Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services.
“In Malden, one of four residents is Asian American. For voters who speak Chinese, this formal understanding with the city ensures that they can exercise their right to vote in the language they are most comfortable with. Asian Americans, who comprise a significant part of Malden’s population, deserve a respectable voice in our city. Through this collaborative effort, we hope that the city will continue to meaningfully work with all of Malden’s communities of color to advance equity. Our goal is one and the same: to preserve and promote our precious democratic values and for all to fairly exercise democracy,” said Mai Du, board member of Greater Malden Asian American Community Coalition.
“We are thrilled that the coalition’s years of community organizing and collaboration have secured this milestone win to advance Chinese language access for the Malden community. Meaningful change takes work, and we are excited to celebrate with the community organizations that have persevered in this fight,” said Mabelle Zhang, policy and community planning associate of Asian Community Development Corporation, a steering committee member of the Asian Pacific Islanders Civic Action Network (APIs CAN!).
“As Asian Americans we are proud of our immigrant heritage and the diverse cultures that we come from. Language access crosscuts a lot of the issues that we face. We celebrate this win for the Chinese American community of Malden, whose ability to vote will no longer be inhibited by poor language access,” said Karen Chen, executive director of Chinese Progressive Association, also a steering committee member of Asian Pacific Islanders Civic Action Network (APIs CAN!).

AALDEF initially wrote to Malden in 2011 about the language access needs of its growing Chinese-speaking voter population. AALDEF has conducted poll monitoring with community partners since then. AALDEF notified Malden of its obligations under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act in early 2017. The coalition of community groups engaged in community education with voters and the city since January 2020 to demand that language access is a priority and to recommend compliance measures. The 2021 general election, however, demonstrated that Malden was not compliant.

In this Memorandum of Understanding, the City of Malden has agreed:

  • To establish a Chinese Language Advisory Group from the community coalition which will provide feedback to the city on how best to provide election-related materials and assistance to the low English proficient Chinese-speaking community;
  • To completely and accurately translate all election-related material, including ballots, information, instructions, and announcements, including their website, into Chinese;
  • To assign at least one Cantonese speaking bilingual poll worker or interpreter to each of Malden’s fourteen polling places, and one Mandarin speaking bilingual poll worker or interpreter to polling places where they are needed;
  • And to hire a Chinese Language Elections Program Coordinator who will coordinate Malden’s Chinese Language Elections Program.

The Memorandum of Understanding, executed several days ahead of the September 6, 2022 primary election, applies to all elections conducted by the city going forward.

A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding can be downloaded here.

AALDEF’s Section 203 Fact Sheet can be downloaded here.


For additional information, contact:

Susana Lorenzo-Giguere
Associate Director, Democracy Program
212.966.5932 x211

Jerry Vattamala
Director, Democracy Program
212.966.5932 x209