The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) commends the introduction of bipartisan legislation offering common sense fixes to modernize the Voting Rights Act (VRA). This bill will address the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder by ensuring greater protections for all voters against discrimination at the ballot box and ensuring that limited English proficient Americans are guaranteed the right to vote.
“We applaud the members of Congress who have come together to affirm that everyone should have equal access to the vote, including language minority citizens,” said Margaret Fung, AALDEF Executive Director.
Asian Americans are now the fastest-growing racial group in this country, and newly-naturalized citizens greatly benefit from Section 203, the language assistance provisions of the VRA. Section 203 requires written translations of all voting materials, including ballots, and interpreters in specific jurisdictions with large populations of language minority citizens.
“We are especially pleased that this bill allows federal observers to be deployed to monitor Section 203 compliance in covered jurisdictions,” said Glenn Magpantay, AALDEF Democracy Program Director.
The new bill protects the right to vote by providing better public notification ofpotential voting changes to enhance transparency and accountability, greater authority for federal courts to shape appropriate remedies in jurisdictions with a recent history of discrimination, and the dispatch of federal observers to monitor the provision of language assistance.
In its 2013 ruling in Shelby, the Supreme Court weakened longstanding protections for minority voters in the VRA. AALDEF has utilized surviving provisions of the VRA, including Section 203, to protect Asian American voters. One week after the Shelby ruling, AALDEF sued the New York City Board of Elections for failing to provide Bengali ballots in Queens County, which led to the provision of language assistance to South Asian American voters in the 2013 citywide elections.
Nonetheless, Asian Americans continue to face significant obstacles to the vote. In the 2012 Presidential Election, AALDEF poll monitors received more than 300 complaints of voting problems from Asian American voters, including the denial of mandated language assistance, racist remarks made by poll workers, misdirection to poll sites, and inadequate notification of poll site assignments or changes. All of these problems were exacerbated because many of the voters were limited English proficient.
“While we have made great strides as a nation, discrimination is still a reality in too many places, especially for limited English proficient voters. This bill is an important step. We hope that Congress will take swift action to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 to ensure that the right to vote is protected for all Americans,” said AALDEF Democracy Program attorney Jerry Vattamala.