AALDEF brief challenges Indiana’s restrictive photo ID requirement for voters
Today, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a 33-year old national civil rights organization, filed an amicus “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of twenty-five Asian American groups, challenging the constitutionality of Indiana’s restrictive voter ID requirements in two cases, William Crawford v. Marion County Election Board and Indiana Democratic Party v. Todd Rokita. AALDEF’s pro bono co-counsel is Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP.
The State of Indiana requires all eligible voters to present government-issued photo identification in order to vote. AALDEF and the Asian American groups that have monitored elections across the country over the last decade have found that voter ID requirements have discriminatory impacts on Asian American voters. A federal appeals court in Chicago upheld Indiana’s voter ID law by disregarding the severe burdens placed on an individual’s right to vote.
Margaret Fung, AALDEF executive director, said, “It is clear that voter ID laws disenfranchise Asian Americans and prevent racial and language minorities from exercising their fundamental right to vote.”
In the 2004 elections, AALDEF and the Asian American groups monitored almost 200 poll sites and conducted a multilingual exit poll of 10,789 Asian American voters in 23 cities in eight states. The amicus brief cited numerous examples of how voter ID checks have been used to disenfranchise eligible Asian American voters:
In New York, identification is not required to vote, but 23% of all Asian American voters surveyed were asked to show ID. Of those, 69% were not required to do so under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which requires only a limited group of first-time voters to present ID. In Chinatown, a police officer turned away all Asian American voters who did not have a photo ID with them. In Flushing, a voter was asked to show her naturalization certificate to prove her eligibility to vote.
In New Jersey, where identification is not required to vote, 25% of all voters surveyed had to provide identification; of those voters, 51% were not required to show ID under HAVA. One elderly first-time Korean American voter was asked to provide several forms of identification. After he presented his voter registration card and other documents from the Board of Elections, he was still required to show a driver’s license, utility bills, and other forms of ID before he could vote.
In Massachusetts, 24% of Asian American voters had to show identification; of those, 57% were not required to show ID under HAVA. One voter presented his United States passport but was told that it was insufficient. The voter was turned away.
In Virginia, where some form of identification is required from all voters, a South Asian voter complained that he was asked to show identification, but his white companion was not required to show any identification whatsoever.
AALDEF sent formal complaints to elections officials after each of these elections, but poll workers continued to make improper demands for identification. For example, in the 2006 elections in Boston, an interpreter appointed by the Elections Department required all Chinese-speaking voters to show IDs before they could receive a translated ballot; none of the English-speaking voters were similarly asked for their IDs.
Glenn D. Magpantay, AALDEF staff attorney, said, “If photo identification requirements like Indiana’s are approved by the Court, AALDEF’s findings demonstrate that those requirements would be misapplied and often applied only to minority voters. Even when voters had acceptable forms of ID, poll workers rejected them and demanded additional documents. Such requirements disenfranchise Asian American voters.”
The following organizations joined AALDEF on the brief:
Asian American Bar Association of New York
Asian American Bar Association of the Delaware Valley
Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts
Asian Pacific American Agenda Coalition
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington, DC Area
Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey
Asian Pacific Islander American Vote
Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia
Chinatown Voter Education Alliance
Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans of Virginia
Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership
Korean American Bar Association of New Jersey
Korean American League for Civic Action
Korean American Resource & Cultural Center
Korean American Voters’ Council of NY & NJ
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium
Organization of Chinese Americans
Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition
Providence Youth Student Movement
The Sikh Coalition
South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow
South Asian Youth Action!
Vietnamese American Initiative for Development
YKASEC – Empowering the Korean American Community
AALDEF is currently involved in lawsuits to safeguard the voting rights of Asian Americans. In February 2006, AALDEF sued the New York City Board of Elections for violations of the Voting Rights Act’s language assistance provisions, which mandate Chinese and Korean ballots and interpreters. AALDEF is also monitoring settlements in the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuits against the cities of Boston and Philadelphia.
AALDEF’s amicus brief in the Crawford case can be found at www.aaldef.org or here.