Asian American Voter Turnout High in Midterm Elections; Voter ID Checks and Lack of Language Assistance Create Barriers for Asian American Voters
More than 625 volunteers from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and a coalition of Asian American advocacy groups monitored today’s elections in eight states—New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland—and Washington, D.C. Amid high Asian American voter turnout, AALDEF volunteers documented and phoned in reports that polling places were understaffed, poll workers were hostile to Asian American voters and improperly asked for IDs, and translated voter assistance materials were not readily available to Asian-language voters.
Preliminary list of Asian American voting problems in 2006 Midterm Elections
Under Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions with large Asian-language populations must provide Chinese- and Korean-language voting assistance, including interpreters at polling places and translated ballots, signs and materials. In New York City, three boroughs are required to provide Chinese-language assistance—Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn—and Queens is also required to provide Korean-language assistance.
At P.S. 20 in Flushing, Queens, the poll site coordinator told an AALDEF monitor that “A lot of Chinese and Koreans don’t speak English. This is America they should learn English.” Translated materials, including the voters’ bill of rights and voting machine instructions, were not posted at the beginning of the day.
At P.S. 126 in Chinatown, a poll worker walked down a line of Asian American voters and improperly asked them to show identification in order to make the line move faster. Another poll worker asked voters to show their voter registration cards, also not a voting prerequisite.
At P.S. 12 in Woodside, Queens, four Asian American voters were asked to show identification even though they were not first-time voters. (One voter was especially upset because she had registered to vote more than 20 years ago, and had been asked for identification in a previous election as well.) In the early evening, two Indian women voters were turned away from the polls and not offered affidavit (provisional) ballots.
At the busy Lands End II poll site in Chinatown, only English-language voting machine instructions were posted.
At Newtown H.S., in Elmhurst, Queens, a Korean American couple was told that their names were not in the voter rolls, even though they both had voted there before. They were not offered affidavit ballots, and left without voting.
At P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights, Queens, a Bengali voter who re-registered in this district in 2000 was told that her name was not on the voter rolls and was turned away.
At Surrogate’s Court in Lower Manhattan, only one Chinese interpreter was at the polling place (two were assigned), and the interpreter had to cross off the Spanish nametag and write in “Chinese.” Most signs were not available in Chinese.
At P.S. 199 in Long Island City, Queens, neither of the two ED/AD tables had Chinese or Korean voting machine instructions or sample ballot posters.
In Boston, MA, a 2005 court settlement requires the City of Boston to provide Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish language assistance to voters under the Voting Rights Act.
At VietAID in Dorchester, a police officer stepped in as a Vietnamese translator when a City-appointed interpreter did not arrive on time. There were no provisional ballot materials in Vietnamese, nor was the required notice on “Election Law Violations” in English or any other language.
At the National Armory and Richard Murphy School in Boston, translated provisional ballot materials and “Election Law Violations” signs were also missing.
At the ETC Building, a very busy poll site in South End, a City-assigned Chinese interpreter asked only Chinese-speaking voters for their identification, even though they were not required to provide it. This resulted in only Chinese Americans being asked to show identification. An elderly Chinese American voter could not read her ballot, but poll workers failed to offer her a magnifying aid, and she could not fill our her ballot properly. Mandated “Interpreter Available” signs in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish were missing, along with multilingual signs, including ballot-marking instructions, “Instructions to Voters” signs, and the “Election Law Violations.” Vietnamese and Spanish provisional ballots, information sheets, specimen ballots, and affirmations of residence for inactive voter forms were also missing.
At the Copley Library in Back Bay, none of the posted signs were in Chinese except for the “Vote Here” sign. Chinese ballots and voting materials were unopened in the back of the room behind the voting booths, instead of at the check-in table. The multilingual sign alerting voters that Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish ballots are available was not posted, nor the Chinese or Vietnamese “Interpreter Available” signs.
At the Patrick O’Hearn School in Dorchester, the multilingual sign alerting voters that Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish ballots are available was not posted, nor the multilingual specimen ballot. The multilingual “Need Translation Assistance” sign was also missing.
At the Woodbourne Apartments site (Ward 19, Precinct 17), the provisional ballot materials in Chinese and Spanish were left unopened by the time AALDEFs monitor left, at 8:45 a.m.
At the Savin Hill Apartments, St. William School, and Edward Everett School poll sites in Dorchester, all Vietnamese provisional ballot materials were left behind the voting machines. At the St. William School site, none of the Interpreter Available signs in English, Vietnamese or Spanish were present, and the Savin Hill and Edward Everett sites, none of the Chinese and Spanish Interpreter Available signs were present.
For all ballots in the City of Boston, the names of candidates were not transliterated into Chinese or Vietnamese. AALDEF alerted elections officials to the incomplete translation of the ballots during the primary elections and has taken the position that the federal court order should be interpreted to include transliterated names.
“For many Asian American voters, the transliterated name of the candidates is the most important piece of information on the ballot,” said AALDEF Staff Attorney Glenn Magpantay. In reviewing New York City’s language assistance program, the U.S. Department of Justice has taken the position that bilingual ballots must include the transliterated names of candidates in order to comply fully with the Voting Rights Act.
At several polling places in Jersey City, Palisades Park and Fort Lee, Asian American voters were asked for ID, even though they said they had voted in previous elections.
At Grace Church in Jersey City, a South Asian voter was not able to vote since her name was not on the voter rolls. A poll worker told her to go back home and bring back a notification letter. The voter showed this letter and then was able to cast her vote. A Filipino voter, who said he has voted several times in the past twenty years, was unable to vote because his name was not in the voter rolls.
Also at Grace Church in Jersey City, a poll worker asked an Asian American voter who had voted at that site last year to show ID in order to vote. The voter rolls listed his name misspelled, but even when the signatures on his ID matched the one in the rolls, the poll worker repeatedly questioned him, Are you sure its you?
At Linbergh School in Palisades Park, a large number of Korean American voters were asked to show ID throughout the day.
On Saturday, in Arlington, VA, a Filipino American voter submitted his absentee ballot in-person. When he glanced at other written material, an elections office worker asked him without any reason: Do you know how to read? The voter found the question highly offensive.
In Woodbridge, VA, a limited English proficient Korean American voter was not able to operate the electronic voting machine, and required language assistance in Korean. A person eventually guided her.
At the Firehouse in Philadelphias Chinatown, poll workers told two Asian American voters they could not vote at that poll site and directed them to North Philadelphia without providing the voters with addresses or directions. One of those voters, a Mandarin speaker, was able to find her correct poll site in North Philadelphia. However, poll workers there also denied her the right to cast a ballot without offering her an explanation or the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot. Instead, they led her out of the poll site. A bystander, seeing the voter cry in frustration and anger, assisted in getting her a provisional ballot.
At William Ford Elementary in Dearborn, MI, poll workers asked an Arab American voter to show identification, even though he had voted in that district in a prior election. The voter was only allowed to cast his vote after he showed his ID.
Also at William Ford Elementary, two limited English proficient voters asked poll workers for assistance because they spoke primarily Arabic. The poll workers, unable to understand that that the two voters were asking for instructions on how to vote, told them, Were not allowed to help you. The voters were only able to vote when another voter offered to assist them in Arabic.
Multilingual Exit Poll
Today, AALDEF volunteers also conducted its annual multilingual survey of Asian American voters, translated into nine languages. The results of these surveys, including candidate preferences, party affiliations, language proficiency, and voting history will be released over the following week.
AALDEF’s Election Protection 2006 efforts were made possible by many groups that mobilized volunteer attorneys, law students, college students and community activists.
- Asian Pacific Islander American Vote
- Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- National Asian Pacific American Bar Association
- National Korean American Service & Education Consortium
- Organization of Chinese Americans
- People For the American Way Foundation
- South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow
- Shearman & Sterling LLP
- Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP
- Asian American Bar Association of New York
- Asian American Bar Association of the Delaware Valley
- Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts
- Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington, DC Area
- Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey
- Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center DC
- Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia
- Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL) DC
- Chinatown Voter Education Alliance NY
- Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans of Virginia
- Filipino American Human Services, Inc. NY
- Greater Boston Legal Services, Asian Outreach Unit
- Korean American League for Civic Action NY
- Korean American Resource & Cultural Center IL
- Korean American Voters’ Council of NY & NJ
- ONE Lowell MA
- Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition
- Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation
- Providence Youth and Student Movement RI
- YKASECEmpowering the Korean American Community NY
- The Sikh Coalition NY
- South Asian Youth Action! NY
- Vietnamese American Initiative for Development MA and
- Asian Pacific American Law Students Association chapters across the country.