A poll site that encompasses Philadelphia’s Chinatown was moved at the eleventh hour, and the signs telling voters of the change were only posted in English, leaving some Asian American voters confused and not knowing where to vote.
The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) sent staff and volunteers to monitor polls in the November 8th municipal elections to document voting barriers faced by Asian American voters and conduct exit polls on their voting preferences.
AALDEF found that the Ben Franklin House poll site near Chinatown for election divisions 12 and 6, located at 834 Chestnut St., was moved very recently to 1020 Locust St. Sources indicated it was moved in the past week. From 12:30 p.m. onwards, when AALDEF reached the original site, multiple voters, including Chinese American voters, arrived. A member of our team reported that all of the signs about the location change were in English, so only English-speaking voters could be notified where they could go to vote.
“It may be a potential violation of the Voting Rights Act to discriminate against racial and language minority voters,” said Glenn D. Magpantay, AALDEF’s Democracy Program Director.
Magpantay compared the problem to what election officials used to do in the Deep South before the Voting Rights Act, when they would change the poll site the night before an election and have a whites-only meeting informing white voters, thereby disenfranchising Black voters. He said, “Only this time it’s in Chinatown, and only English-speaking voters are told where to vote.”
AALDEF complained to both the city solicitor’s office and election officials in Philadelphia that they had failed to put up a sign in Chinese at the polling site. The election officials opted not to remedy the situation at that time.
AALDEF continued to have volunteers at the poll site to take witness statements. We would like to hear from Asian American voters who were unable to vote because translated signs and interpreters were unavailable.
For further information, please contact:
Glenn D. Magpantay
Director, Democracy Program
Image: Tim Wilson/Flickr