Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the federal Voting Rights Act earlier this month, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a 31-year old civil rights organization, released a new report outlining an array of voting obstacles encountered by Asian American in the November 2004 Presidential Election.
AALDEF’s new report, Asian American Access to Democracy in the 2004 Elections, documents violations of the Voting Rights Act and Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and other incidents of anti-Asian voter disenfranchisement in 23 cities in 8 states: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
On Nov. 2, 2004, with the help of more than 1,200 volunteers, AALDEF monitored almost 200 poll sites and conducted a multilingual survey of 11,000 Asian American voters. AALDEF received more than 600 complaints of voting barriers.
AALDEF executive director Margaret Fung said, “In the 2004 elections, Asian Americans faced an array of barriers that prevented them from exercising their right to vote.” These included:
Language assistance, such as interpreters or translated voting materials, if any, was far from adequate. Some poll workers were completely unaware of their legal responsibilities or outright refused to make language assistance available to voters. In one instance, Chinese interpreters were given to Korean voters.
Poll workers were rude, hostile, and made racist remarks. For example, poll workers said Asian American voters should not be citizens and blamed Asian voters for holding up lines.
Voters names were missing from voter roll books, often due to faulty processing or mishandling of voter registration forms. Many were simply turned away.
Although HAVA requires that these voters be offered provisional ballots, poll workers denied voters this right. Even when provisional ballots were cast, many were not counted.
Poll workers made improper and excessive demands for identification, misapplying HAVAs ID requirements. These demands were often only made of Asian American voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act. One voter was required to provide her naturalization certificate, and when she returned with it in hand, she was told that it was too late to vote.
Inadequate notice of poll sites and misdirection to voting booths inside sites created much confusion and many frustrated voters left without voting.
AALDEF staff attorney Glenn D. Magpantay noted that some of these problems were not new. “In 2000, while the nation focused on Florida, in New York City ballots flipped the translated party headings with Democrats listed as Republicans and vice versa.” AALDEF sent complaint letters to local elections officials that detailed the 2004 obstacles and offered recommendations for improvements.
He continued, “The need for renewal of the Voting Rights Act is undeniable.” The Act’s provisions for language assistance (Section 203) and enforcement (Section 5) will expire in 2007 unless Congress reauthorizes them. AALDEF is pressing for reauthorization of both sections and an expansion of Section 203 to include jurisdictions not currently covered for Asian language assistance, like New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Virginia.
AALDEF worked with the following co-sponsors to mobilize 1,200 attorneys, law students, and volunteers o monitor poll sites and survey voters: Asian American Bar Association of New York, Asian Pacific American Agenda Coalition, Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, Boston Asian Students Alliance, Chinatown Voter Education Alliance, Chinese Progressive Association, Harry H. Dow Memorial Legal Assistance Fund, Korean American Resource and Cultural Center, Korean American Voters Council of NY/NJ, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights-Boston, National Asian American Student Convention, National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, Providence Youth and Student Movement, Organization of Chinese Americans-Detroit Chapter, South Asian American Voting Youth, South Asian American Leaders for Tomorrow, Vietnamese American Initiative for Development, and Young Korean American Service and Education Center.
Copies of the report can be obtained online or by calling AALDEF at 212.966.5932.