Monitors Document Concerns in NY, NJ, and MA
New York, NY—More than 275 volunteers from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and a coalition of Asian American advocacy groups monitored yesterdays elections at approximately 80 poll sites in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Dozens of AALDEF monitors documented and phoned in reports that polling places were understaffed, staff were hostile to Asian American voters, and that required voter assistance materials were not readily available to Asian-language voters.
Under Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions with sizeable Asian language populations must ensure the availability of interpreters and voter assistance and voters rights materials translated in those languages on Election Day. (For details, see AALDEFs fact sheet, “Language Access to the Vote for Asian Americans”).
In New York City, three boroughs are required to staff polling sites with Chinese-language interpreters-Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn-with the addition of Korean in Queens. In Boston, MA, a court settlement issued last month requires the City of Boston to provide Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish language assistance to voters under the Voting Rights Act in the Nov. 8th elections. And in New Jersey, AALDEF had alerted the U.S. Justice Department to racist anti-Asian remarks made by talk radio hosts about an Asian American mayoral candidate before the 2005 primary election.
Said AALDEF Staff Attorney Glenn Magpantay, “The preliminary reports show that Asian Americans needed to overcome several obstacles to exercise their right to vote. As in the previous elections, poll workers were hostile and some did not understand their obligations under federal laws. This is unacceptable.”
AALDEF volunteers also conducted its annual multilingual survey of Asian American voters in those states, and the first series of survey results will be released in the coming weeks.
Preliminary list of documented violations in the 2005 Elections:
New York County, NY
At the Mott St. Senior Center, in the heart of Chinatown, only two of the four assigned Chinese interpreters were present by 5:20 p.m.; for the majority of the time, only one Chinese interpreter was on duty, making the site substantially inaccessible to Chinese speakers. In addition, the Vote Here sign at the sites entrance was only posted in English and Spanish, and only one Chinese-language sample ballot was available for seven voting machines. Poll workers were inconsistent in their treatment of voters whose names were not found in voter rolls. One man was sent to four election district tables to look up his name, and without an interpreter available, believed he could not vote. A poll worker eventually left to get him and ask him to fill out an affidavit ballot.
At the busy Lands End II poll site in Chinatown, the NYC Board of Elections shut down the sites voting machines for half an hour in the early evening, forcing waiting voters to vote by emergency ballots. Chinese-language materials were in limited supply, including affidavit ballots. In addition, a district leader prevented one Chinese American voter from allowing the poll site interpreter to accompany her into the voting booth.
At P.S. 20 in the Lower East Side, Chinese-language affidavit ballots were missing from all election district tables, in direct conflict with federal law. Only two of three Chinese interpreters assigned by the Board of Elections were present at the polling site.
At P.S. 140 in the Lower East Side, Chinese-language sample ballots were missing from four of the five total election district tables. Chinese-language voting machine instructions were not posted at one election district voting table, and posted far from voting machines at two election district voting tables. Chinese-language affidavit ballots, Chinese voter registration forms, and various multilingual materials were kept behind voting machines, in direct violation of the law.
At Ralph Hernandez Tenement in Chinatown, only two of four Chinese interpreters assigned by the Board of Elections were present at the polling site, and a wide array of mandated voters rights materials were left unopened in their original plastic wrap or were, as in the case of multilingual affidavit ballot instructions, entirely missing from two of three election district tables.
At Manhattan Civil Court, another poll site, only two Chinese interpreters of the four assigned were present by 11:26 a.m.
Kings County, NY
At P.S. 217 in Midwood, Brooklyn, a Pakistani American voter noticed his voting machine was malfunctioning. When he reported it to the poll workers, the site supervisor summoned looked at the machine and then chose to ignore the problem and the voter. When the voter asked for some resolution to the voting problem, she vulgarly cursed him and refused to address his concern.
Also at P.S. 217, at least two Pakistani American voters were immediately asked to show IDs in order to vote. At least one Pakistani American whose name could not be found in the voter rolls left without voting, although he had voted recently and some of his family members were in the voter rolls. Under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), only certain first-time voters are required to show ID, and voters whose names do not appear in the voter rolls have a right to vote by provisional affidavit ballot.
At P.S. 314 in Sunset Park, a Chinese American voter could not vote because she was told her name was not listed. Although she knew that it was misspelled in the voter rolls, poll workers rudely refused to let her look under a different name or fill out a form to correct the voting record. She was able to vote only because an interpreter intervened to assist her.
Queens County, NY
At Flushing High School, only two Chinese interpreters and two Korean interpreters were on duty, although four of each had been assigned to the poll site. At four of the five election district tables, Chinese- or Korean- language affidavit ballots were missing. Multilingual instruction cards for affidavit ballots and voting machines were entirely missing from all five election district tables.
At J.H.S. 189, a poll worker rushed one Chinese American voter to finish voting even though she had not yet finished reading the instructions. The poll worker stopped when a supervisor arrived. Another voter reported that a poll worker at the site was very rude and tried to belittle her.
At P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights, a Bangladeshi American voter could not find her name in the voter rolls although he had voted at the same site in 1996, and registered again after poll workers could not find his name during the 2005 primaries and was asked to vote by affidavit ballot. He voted again this year by affidavit ballot. Another Bangladeshi American was asked to provide ID even though this election was not his first time voting.
At P.S. 11 in Woodside, voting instruction signs were not posted in Korean.
At P.S. 150 in Sunnyside, a variety of voting materials were not available in Korean or Chinese.
At P.S. 148 in East Elmhurst, one election district voting table had bilingual materials stacked in a pile in unopened packages. At South Ridge Coops in Jackson Heights, a Spanish interpreter was available but poll workers did not seek the interpreters assistance when a voter needed it.
At least one Asian American voter at the Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing was turned away and misdirected to P.S. 114, another poll site miles away in Far Rockaway.
At the Senior Citizens Center in Fort Lee, one Korean American voter was asked to show ID before she could vote. After voting, she reported that a person came up to her and asked in a harsh tone if she was eligible to vote, and demanded to know her ethnicity. Another Korean American who had been voting since 1985 had his eligibility challenged.
Based on surveys AALDEF volunteers conducted with exiting voters, poll workers insisted that a number of Asian American voters (at least a dozen in Edison and Jersey City) show identification before being allowed to cast a ballot, even though several who had voted in previous elections were not affected by HAVA voter identification provisions for new voters.
In Jersey City, after two Korean American voters cast their ballots, a partisan challenger asked for and mocked the name of one Korean American voter named Hung, asking the poll site, Have you ever hung a voters surname? The challenger continued to ridicule the voters name with a song, in the presence of other waiting voters and site poll workers, who failed to rebuke the challenger.
At least two poll monitors noted that Vietnamese interpreters criticized the poor Vietnamese translation of instructions on the use of provisional ballots.
At the Pasciucco Apartments poll site, Chinese and Vietnamese voter assistance materials mandated by a court settlement were not provided unless explicitly requested. Poll workers claimed the tables were too small to accommodate court-ordered translated voting materials.
At the Dorchester House poll site, court-mandated Vietnamese and Spanish voter assistance materials were segregated and kept on a separate table.
At the Early Learning Center, Spanish voter assistance materials were not available unless specifically requested.
At two Boston poll sites, Thomas A. Edison Middle School and Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly, Chinese-language sample ballots and provisional ballots were entirely missing from the poll site. When one voter at Edison Middle School was asked to show ID but did not have any with him, the poll site warden sent him away and remarked, Read up before you come back.
At the Academy Hill Library, poll workers put up the multilingual Interpretation Available and Fill in the Oval signs, a Chinese-language check-in table sign, and Chinese-language voter registration forms only after AALDEF’s poll monitor arrived.
2005 AALDEF Elections Monitoring Co-Sponsors
New York: Asian American Bar Association of New York, Chinatown Voter Education Alliance, Project Impact, South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, Korean American Voters Council of NY/NJ, YKASEC: Empowering Korean American Community.
Massachusetts: Family Unity of Lowell, ONE Lowell, Asian Pacific American Agenda Coalition, Greater Boston Legal Services/Asian Outreach Unit, Boston Asian Students Alliance, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the Boston Bar Association, Chinese Progressive Association, Vietnamese American Initiative for Development, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.
New Jersey: Korean American Voters Council of NY/NJ, South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow, NJ Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, NJ Election Protection & Integrity Project, ACLU of NJ, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, People for the American Way.