Press Release

Experts Release New Report Underscoring Continuing Need for Voting Rights Enforcement in New York

 
 

New York—Nationally recognized voting rights experts released a new, sharply focused report on voting rights enforcement in New York this morning citing blatant voting rights violations such as an incident where a New York City polling site coordinator yelled, “You f—ing Chinese, theres too many of you!” at interpreters assisting voters with translation questions.

Commissioned by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund through RenewtheVRA.org, a coalition of national and grassroots civil rights organizations working to renew and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, the report documents in meticulous detail recent examples of voting rights violations.

The Voting Rights Act has been the pivotal force behind the nations progress toward protecting the right to vote, said Nancy Zirkin deputy director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. But as this report documents, despite progress made, barriers to full and equal minority voter participation remain.

The Voting Rights Act bans racial discrimination in voting nationwide. Passed in 1965 it prohibits discrimination practices like literacy tests and unfair redistricting schemes. Congress is currently considering whether to renew several key protections providing for language assistance, Election Day monitors and Justice Department preclearance of voting changes that are set to expire next August.

New York provides challenges for administering fair elections. In New York City alone there are 5,797 election districts. Any given citywide election involves close to 6,400 voting machines staffed by some 25,000 poll workers.

The data-rich report, authored by Juan Cartagena of the Community Service Society, includes recent examples of voting rights violations that document in vivid detail the continued need for renewing the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

The report was released by Zirkin, Cartagena, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund executive director Margaret Fung, and NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund associate director of litigation Debo Adegbile on an audio briefing. It is posted on RenewtheVRA.org. The report is one of 14 state reports that have been requested by Congress to examine the impact of the Voting Rights Act over the past 25 years, the last time the Act was fully reauthorized. The other reports document voting rights enforcement in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia.

Key Highlights & Page References for Voting Rights in New York 1982-2006

THE ISSUE: Key safeguards in the Voting Rights Act will expire August 2007 unless Congress renews them. These safeguards protect the rights, power and influence of all New York state voters.

One safeguard protects against discrimination and ensures fair elections and fair representation by preventing changes from being made that make it harder for citizens to vote for the candidates of their choice.

  • In 1991, New York created new city council districts that minimized the voting power of Latinos in Williamsburg/Bushwick in Kings County and East Harlem/Bronx and Bronx counties. Again, in 1992, the New York State Assembly attempted to dilute the Latino communities ability to elect Latino candidates through redistricting. In both cases, the Department of Justice stepped in under the voting rights safeguards and stopped voting discrimination. (pages 4-5)
  • In 1993 and 1994, the New York Board of Elections modified a Chinese-language voting program — failing to translate candidates names and voting machine instructions putting Chinese voters at a severe disadvantage. Again, the Justice Department intervened. (pages 6-7)
  • In 1996 and 1999, the Justice Department objected to plans to change the way New York community school board members were elected because the changes would have unfairly minimized the influence of Hispanic and African American voters. If the Justice Department had not stepped in, a chancellor would have appointed school board members instead of residents voting for them. (pages 8-9)

Another protection ensures that language assistance is available in areas where more than 5 percent of citizens are not native English speakers. This helps citizens who aren’t fluent in English understand the voting process so they can elect people who best represent their interests.

  • In 2004 and 2005, the Justice Department filed suit against both Suffolk and Westchester counties because their language assistance programs were insufficient and Latino voters were met with hostile treatment. (page 18)
  • In 2001 the New York City Board of Elections was short 33 percent of the total number of Spanish interpreters required by law, 25 percent of the Chinese interpreters, and 59 percent of the Korean interpreters necessary to guarantee fair New York elections. (page 27)
  • On numerous occasions ballot translations were printed in a font so impossibly small that the ballots were illegible. (page 15)
  • Blatant translation errors include: erroneously translated party headings in a 2000 general election; candidate Mary O’Connors name translated incorrectly as Mary O’Party; and directions on a paper ballot for justices of the Supreme Court that should have read vote for any three was translated as vote for any five. (page 15)

Another safeguard allows the Department of Justice to send election monitors to areas with a recent history of discrimination.

  • Since the mid-80s, the Justice Department has sent 881 election monitors to observe New York elections. Deployment on such a large scale is evidence of the continuing need for election monitoring in New York. (pages 12-13)
  • Election monitor deployment by county between 1985 and 2004: Bronx County (175); Kings County (286); New York County (353); Queens County (12); Suffolk County (55).
  • Even though New York City has the largest Asian American population in the nation, the report chronicles significant Asian-American discrimination and intimidation.
  • In the Bronx, South Asians attempting to cast their ballots were called terrorists. (page 15)
  • At a Chinatown voting location, polling inspectors humiliated a voter by ridiculing the voters last name, Ho. (page 15)
  • In Queens, an election coordinator, repeatedly referred to herself as a U.S. citizen, and directed other poll workers to keep an eye on South Asian voters, who she said, unlike her, were not born here. (page 15)

Every single American citizen should be secure in their right to vote. The right to vote is the keystone of the American government. And every single vote is precious. Congress should protect the voting rights of all voters by renewing these crucial safeguards of the Voting Rights Act.