Press Release

American Muslim voters faced extra hurdles at poll sites in Michigan and New York in the 2016 Elections

New York City…American Muslim voters were specifically targeted by poll workers with requests for additional identification at poll sites in Michigan and New York. In Michigan, some poll workers required American Muslim women to remove their niqabs and fully reveal their faces in order to vote, and in Brooklyn, NY, American Muslim voters were improperly told they had to show voter ID.The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a New York-based national organization, received several reports of discrimination against American Muslim voters on Election Day from AALDEF volunteers in Michigan. At Summit on the Park, a community center and poll site in Canton, Michigan, a poll worker required an American Muslim woman to remove her niqab and fully reveal her face before presenting her voter identification. AALDEF also received reports of anti-Muslim voter discrimination at Canton’s Crescent Academy, where fully veiled American Muslim women were asked to show their faces in order to verify their identification cards.

Jerry Vattamala, AALDEF Democracy Program Director, said, “Asian American and American Muslim voters encountered numerous barriers to voting, which other groups did not face. AALDEF will investigate these voter complaints and seek all available remedies under the law.”

In Michigan, voters are asked to produce a qualifying form of photo identification, but they can also sign an affidavit and vote if they do not have a photo ID. When a Bengali-speaking female voter could not locate her name in the voter rolls, a poll worker at Hamtramck Community Center asked her to prove her citizenship before giving her a provisional ballot. At the Lasky Recreation Center in Detroit, Arab American voters dressed in traditional clothing were told they were not registered to vote and directed to stand off to the side of the polling place. These voters were ignored for more than an hour until another voter noticed them and confirmed that they were in fact registered; they were finally allowed to vote. Other Arab American voters simply left the poll site after being told they were not registered, despite voting in the midterm elections two years earlier. Poll workers were generally rude to the largely American Muslim population at this site, which exacerbated the problems faced by many first-time, limited English proficient voters. Generally, AALDEF’s exit poll results in Michigan showed that voters who identified themselves as Muslim faced additional barriers to voting.

These reports of voter discrimination came in the midst of an election marred by anti-Muslim rhetoric. In addition to the incidents observed by AALDEF volunteers, there have been news reports of American Muslim voters misdirected to other poll sites in East Lansing, Michigan and a rise in hate violence and vandalism after the election of Donald Trump.

AALDEF is also investigating reports of discrimination against American Muslim voters in New York, which does not require voter IDs except for certain first-time voters. Volunteers stationed at P.S. 217, a poll site located in Midwood, Brooklyn, a heavily South Asian neighborhood, said they observed poll workers who targeted women in traditional Muslim clothing for identification. Claire Hsiang Marx, an AALDEF monitor, observed that whenever voters in traditional Muslim clothing were standing on line, an announcement was made that voters “need ID.” American Muslim female voters at this poll site said they were asked to provide identification at a higher frequency than other men and women. This behavior reportedly continued even after representatives from the New York City Board of Elections visited the poll site after voter complaints about requests for identification. Some American Muslim female voters were required to provide their identification twice, once to the poll site door clerk and again at their election district.

Margaret Fung, AALDEF executive director, said, “In light of the virulent anti-Muslim rhetoric during this election season, attorneys and community advocates across the country must remain on high alert for instances of discrimination and violence against American Muslims.”

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a 42-year-old New York-based national organization, dispatched more than 950 attorneys, law students, and community volunteers to 137 polling places in 14 states with large Asian American populations. They recorded voter complaints and conducted a nonpartisan multilingual exit poll of 14,400 Asian American voters. AALDEF also received reports of voting barriers via a multilingual telephone hotline, by email, and on social media. AALDEF has released preliminary reports of voting problems and Asian American Exit Poll results.

For more information, contact:

Jerry Vattamala, Democracy Program Director

Margaret Fung, Executive Director