Asian American Civil Rights Group Reports Widespread Voter Problems on Election Day
Longtime Voters Improperly Required to Show ID; Many Cast Provisional Ballots; Shortage of Bilingual Poll Workers Contributes to Long Lines
New York—A heavy turnout of Asian American voters in today’s Presidential election, especially among new citizen and first-time voters, was marred by complaints about racist poll workers, improper demands for identification, and a shortage of Asian-language interpreters at polling sites throughout New York and New Jersey.
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which dispatched over 600 volunteer attorneys, students and community workers to over 175 poll sites in 8 states, reported that Asian American voters throughout the country faced obstacles in exercising their right to vote:
Racist Remarks to Asian American Voters
At PS 69 in Jackson Heights, Queens, poll workers blamed voters for holding up the lines: “You Oriental guys are taking too long to vote.” Several Asian American voters told AALDEF monitors that they felt rushed when they were voting. Although the Voting Rights Act requires bilingual materials to be displayed at polling places, poll workers said that there were too many bilingual materials on the tables: “If they (Asian American voters) need it, they can ask for it.” This was a violation of section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandates that Chinese-language materials and assistance be provided to Asian American voters with limited English proficiency. One Chinese American voter who asked for language assistance was directed to a Korean interpreter, who could not help.
At Grace Church in Jersey City, NJ, a police officer pulled an Asian American voter out of the voting booth, admonishing her that she should wait on line until called.
Asian American Voters Misdirected to Wrong Polling Sites
Two major snafus occurred in Queens, where an unusually large number of voters in Asian American neighborhoods appeared at their regular polling places and then were told to go to different sites.
At PS 115 in Floral Park, Queens, over 100 mostly South Asian voters were turned away and told to go to two other polling sites, PS 266 or PS 161.
At PS 20 in Flushing, Queens, over 70 Asian American voters were turned away and told to go to PS 189 or St. Andrew’s Church.
At PS 250 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Asian American voters were told to stand in one line and then were told to go to another line for their proper election district. General confusion about where voters should go to vote could not be easily resolved, because individuals could not get through to the NYC Board of Elections voter hotline.
In these instances, the NYC Board of Elections failed to give appropriate notice of a polling site change or did not inform voters about their correct polling sites. It is unclear whether these Asian American voters were finally able to vote at these alternate sites.
Asian American Voters Improperly Asked for ID
Under the new Help America Vote Act (HAVA), ID checks are required only for certain first-time voters who registered by mail and did not provide a driver’s license number of the last four digits of their Social Security number. AALDEF monitors reported that Asian American voters were routinely asked for identification, even though they had voted in several previous elections. Asian American voters complained about this unnecessary ID check at IS 131 in Manhattan’s Chinatown; PS 115 in Floral Park, Queens; PS 100 in Richmond Hill, Queens; IS 145 in Jackson Heights, Queens; PS 250 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing, Queens; Grace Church in Jersey City, NJ; and Senior Citizens Building at Palisades Park, NJ.
AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung said, “Asian American voters were subjected to racial profiling at the polls, since they were routinely asked for identification in order to establish their eligibility to vote, even when it was not required.”
Asian American Voters Not Given Provisional Ballots
Asian American voters were challenged at polling places because their names were not found in voter lists. AALDEF monitors reported that poll workers at PS 100 in Richmond Hill, Queens; PS 250 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; IS 131 in Manhattan’s Chinatown and Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing, Queens refused to offer provisional (affidavit) ballots to voters who requested them.
For those voters who cast provisional ballots, many were surprised that their voter registration forms had not been processed correctly, and did not know why their names were not included in voter lists. After provisional ballots were completed, poll workers often did not know what to do with them, sometimes debating among themselves in front of confused voters.
Inadequate Number of Bilingual Poll Workers and Interpreters
At numerous polling sites throughout New York City, AALDEF monitors reported that polling places were understaffed and unable to provide assistance to Asian-language voters who needed interpreters, contributing to long lines outside polling places. Under section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act, three boroughs in New York City are required to staff polling sites with Chinese- and Korean-language interpreters; severe shortages were reported at many poll sites.
At IS 131 in Manhattan’s Chinatown, the City was required to place 10 Chinese-language staff at this busy polling place; only 4 Chinese interpreters were observed during the day. Despite several calls to the NYC Board of Elections about the need for more bilingual election workers, no additional staff were dispatched. At 1 pm, when one voting machine broke down, a line of 40 mostly Chinese American voters waited for assistance as the responsible poll worker walked out to take a lunch break. These Asian American voters were never offered emergency paper ballots while the machine was down.
At PS 20 in Flushing, Queens, several Korean American voters needed interpreters to assist them, but all 4 Korean interpreters did not show up at this site.
At PS 2 in Manhattan’s Chinatown, only 2 Chinese interpreters were present at a site that required 6 Chinese interpreters under the NYC Board of Elections own targeting plan.
At PS 189 in Flushing, only 2 Korean interpreters were present at a site where 4 Korean interpreters had been assigned by the NYC Board of Elections.
AALDEF staff attorney Glenn Magpantay reported that Asian American voters faced long lines at polling places in Boston’s Chinatown (at Franklyn Institute, over 1-½ hours’ waiting time outside the polling place), Philadelphia’s Chinatown (over 1 hour) and Ann Arbor, Michigan (over 45 minutes).
AALDEF also conducted multilingual exit polls of Asian American voters at polling sites in 8 states (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Illinois, Michigan). In the 2000 Presidential Election, AALDEF surveyed over 5,000 Asian New Yorkers about their voter preferences and problems they experienced at the polls. Preliminary results from AALDEF’s 2004 exit polls will be released on Thursday, documenting how Asian Americans voted in the Presidential election and what issues mattered the most to them.