November 6, 2012 – Many Asian American voters, especially new citizens and first-time voters, encountered barriers at polling places, including inadequate language assistance, excessive requests for identification and voter eligibility, and missing names on voter rolls.
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) dispatched over 800 attorneys, law students, and community volunteers to over 120 polling places in 14 states with large Asian American populations, where they recorded voter complaints and conducted a nonpartisan multilingual exit poll. AALDEF also received reports of voting barriers via a multilingual hotline, by email, and on social media.
States with the most egregious violations include Virginia, where Korean American voters were segregated from other voters into a separate line; Philadelphia, where Vietnamese American voters faced a severe shortage of language assistance; Michigan, where Bengali materials were severely mistranslated; New York, where poll workers in Chinatown were not informed of new rules for voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy; and Georgia, where Asian American voters struggled with discriminatory new proof of citizenship laws.
“Asian American voters had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to exercise their right to vote today,” said Glenn D. Magpantay, Director of AALDEF’s Democracy Program. “Our attorneys are fully investigating every complaint and we will report our findings and observations to local election officials and the U.S. Department of Justice.”
A summary of voting rights violations follows:
Poll workers separated all Korean American voters into segregated lines because “there were so many,” allowing white voters to vote first, and required to go through additional hoops to vote. Unlike other voters, only Korean American voters were directed to stand and verbally state aloud their names, addresses, and cities and states of residence in English, despite providing government issued identification to vote. Elderly Korean American voters with limited English-proficiency were particularly uncomfortable with the discriminatory treatment.
Many Asian American voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy were turned away by poll workers who were unaware of Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order allowing their ballots to be counted wherever they were cast. Incidents occurred in Chinatown, Manhattan and Jamaica, Queens where poll workers refused to give out provisional affidavit ballots to voters. In Flushing and Elmhurst, Queens, elderly Korean American and Chinese American voters were turned away by poll workers and not given affidavit ballots. In Jackson Heights, at least 20 mostly South Asian American voters were turned away. In Chinatown, poll workers were unaware that affidavit ballots were even translated into Chinese.
Required language assistance was inadequate. Queens County has been covered for Asian Indian language assistance under Section 203 of the Voting Right Act since October 13, 2011. However, the New York City Board of Elections did not provide Bengali language ballots to voters, nor were there “Interpreter Available” signs posted outside the sites.
At the South Philadelphia High School poll site, there were too few interpreters to assist Vietnamese American voters. Before Election Day, Philadelphia officials said they had only trained four Asian language interpreters for the entire city. As a result, Asian American voters were turned away from the polls.
Many poll sites in Hamtramck failed to provide Bengali ballots, make translated materials available, or provide interpreters, as is required under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. In one case, the translated sign displaying the Voter Bill of Rights had nothing to do with voters’ rights. Poll workers also complained that voting machine scanners would not read the translated Bengali ballots.
At three poll sites in New Orleans, limited English-proficient Vietnamese American voters, many of whom were senior citizens, were told that interpreters could not assist them or otherwise translate the ballot for them, in violation of Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act. AALDEF attempted to appeal to local elections officials, yet the hotline number to report problems only led to a voicemail box.
Several Asian American voters in Georgia reported that they were not allowed to vote because they had not provided documentary proof of U.S. citizenship, as is required under Georgia’s new proof of citizenship law. One Asian American voter in Cobb County, despite having a U.S. passport, was told that she could only vote by provisional ballot and to go to the County Clerk’s office to prove her eligibility to vote.
Ujala Sehgal, Communication Coordinator
Glenn Magpantay, Democracy Program Director
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education and organizing. AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.
For further information and updates, visit our Facebook page and folow us on Twitter.