Voting Rights & Democracy

Asian American Democracy Project

The ability to have a say in the workings of government, either as an elected official or as a voter, is a powerful empowerment tool. Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the United States, yet the community’s political strength has yet to be fully realized.

Throughout United States history, Asian Americans have been disenfranchised by discriminatory laws that denied citizenship to Asian immigrants and rendered them ineligible to vote. It was not until 1943 that Chinese Americans were first permitted to become citizens. For Asian Indians, it was 1946. For Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans, that right did not come until 1952. Despite the inroads Asian Americans have made as elected officials, the legacy of these discriminatory policies and the notion of Asian Americans as foreigners are still strongly felt today, impeding Asian American political participation.

AALDEF blends community education, election reform advocacy, litigation, and technical assistance to community-based organizations to promote civic participation among Asian Americans–immigrants and new citizens–across the country.

AALDEF is a nationally recognized expert on Asian American voting issues and has testified before Congress on the issues of bilingual ballots, barriers to voting, and redistricting. AALDEF has also successfully litigated cases for compliance with the Voting Rights Act in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Austin, Texas. For the past 30 years, AALDEF has monitored elections for anti-Asian voter disenfranchisement, compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act’s language assistance provisions (Sections 203 and 208) and non-discrimination protections (Section 2), and implementation of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The findings from these monitoring efforts have been analyzed and compiled in major policy reports that have been instrumental in federal voting rights policy. For copies of AALDEF’s latest voting rights policy reports, please click here.

A hallmark of AALDEF voting rights work is its annual Asian American Election Protection Project, which consists of a multilingual voter survey and poll monitoring efforts. The voter survey and poll monitoring are conducted each year, are national in scope, and involve thousands of trained volunteers from law firms, law schools, colleges, and community groups. During the 2008 Presidential Election, AALDEF covered a total of 229 poll sites in 52 cities in 11 states – New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana, Nevada, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. AALDEF surveyed 16,665 Asian American voters in 11 Asian languages and dialects. Volunteer attorneys inspected 137 poll sites in New York City and Boston that were specifically targeted for language assistance under the Voting Rights Act and in Northern Virginia, Northern New Jersey, and Eastern Pennsylvania for voting signs required under HAVA. In total, AALDEF trained and organized more than 1,500 volunteer attorneys, law students and community members in this national effort.

AALDEF witnessed and received hundreds of complaints from Asian American voters on Election Day, ranging from hostile poll workers making racist comments toward Asian American voters to improper demands for identification or proof of citizenship from Asian American voters. AALDEF also operated a multilingual telephone hotline to record complaints of voting problems. Operators spoke seven languages and dialects: English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Toisan, Korean, Tagalog, and Gujarati.

Monitoring the 2012 Elections

AALDEF has monitored the voting rights and political opinions of Asian American voters in every major election since 1988. In the 2008 elections, AALDEF polled almost 17,000 Asian American voters in eleven states and Washington, DC. For the 2012 elections, AALDEF conducted an exit poll of 9,096 Asian American voters in 14 states: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and also the District of Columbia. You can read the 2012 report describing Asian American voter problems here.

AALDEF monitored the poll sites for compliance with the Voting Rights Act, including the provision of Asian-language ballots, interpreters, signs, and voting materials, which are required in certain districts. AALDEF also monitored the application of strict voter identification and proof of citizenship laws that create discriminatory obstacles for Asian American voters and other voters of color.

Voter Education 2012: In response to a wave of state laws that threaten voting rights of Asian Americans and other voters of color, AALDEF offered a series of legal trainings in multiple cities reviewing voters’ rights, voter registration, and election rules for tax-exempt nonprofit organizations. AALDEF also released fact sheets on state voting laws, beginning with New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Asian American Exit Polls

AALDEF conducts the nation’s only Election Day exit poll of Asian American voters in several states. Asian American voters are often not included in large enough numbers in many polls that are picked up by mainstream media, and as a result, Asian American civic engagement, voting preferences, and issues of concern can easily be ignored by elected officials and government agencies.

The Asian American Vote in the 2012 Presidential Election AALDEF polled 9,096 Asian American voters in 37 cities across 14 states in the 2012 elections: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Nevada, California, and Washington, D.C. The Asian American vote varied by ethnic group and geographic location, with 77% of Asian Americans polled voting for Barack Obama and 21% for Mitt Romney. You can read the 2012 Asian American exit poll report here

The Asian American Vote in the 2008 Presidential Election

On Election Day, November 4, 2008, AALDEF dispatched 1,500 attorneys, law students and community volunteers to poll sites in 11 states and conducted a nonpartisan multilingual exit poll of 16,665 Asian American voters. AALDEF’s exit poll was the nation’s largest survey of Asian American voters and covered 113 poll sites in 39 cities in in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, and Nevada. The exit poll was conducted in English and twelve Asian languages. test

Download our report >

The Asian American Vote in the 2004 Presidential Election On November 2, 2004, AALDEF, with the help of several co-sponsoring organizations and 1,200 attorneys, law students, and volunteers, conducted the nation’s largest nonpartisan, multilingual exit poll of almost 11,000 Asian American voters. The questionnaire was written in 8 languages, and Asian Americans were surveyed in 23 cities in 8 states: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. test

Download our report >

Additional reports are available here.

Asian American Involvement in the Redistricting Process Census 2010 revealed a dramatic growth in the Asian American population in states and cities across the country. Redistricting is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to increase the political influence and electoral representation of Asian Americans by keeping communities together in newly-drawn districts.

New York City Council Redistricting AALDEF worked with other civil rights groups in New York City to propose new NYC city council district lines that reflected the City’s Asian American population growth.

View the Unity Map for NYC Council Redistricting >

New York State Senate, State Assembly, and Congressional Redistricting
AALDEF, in a joint coalition with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP), and the Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ) of Medgar Evers College have released the Unity Map, a joint proposal for new State Assembly and State Senate districts in New York City that reflects its changing demographics and protects the voting rights of Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans.

View the Unity Map and further resources on State Senate, State Assembly, and Congressional redistricting >

Favors v. Cuomo (2012) AALDEF and pro bono counsel Kaye Scholer LLP filed a complaint-in-intervention on behalf of four Asian American voters in the Congressional redistricting case Favors v. Cuomo, urging the Brooklyn Federal Court to adopt a redistricting plan that provides Asian Americans in New York with equal political representation. In March, a three-judge panel approved the new Congressional redistricting map for New York, which closely resembled AALDEF’s own proposed district lines by keeping Asian American and other communities of color together.

View a timeline of AALDEF’s Congressional redistricting advocacy >

Perry v. Perez (2012). AALDEF, together with pro bono counsel Kaye Scholer LLP, filed an amicus brief in Perry v. Perez on behalf of the Organization of Chinese Americans Greater Houston Chapter urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a Texas district court’s interim redistricting plan after the DOJ contended that the Texas state legislature’s plan diluted the voting power of Asian Americans and other people of color.

AALDEF Amicus Brief on Behalf of Organization for Chinese Americans Greater Houston Chapter [pdf]

Asian Language Assistance under Voting Rights Act-Section 203 In 1992, AALDEF was the only Asian American organization invited to testify before the House Judiciary Committee in support of expanding language assistance under the Voting Rights Act.

In 1994, AALDEF successfully advocated for the first fully-translated Chinese-language ballots in New York City, providing language assistance for the first time to 55,000 Chinese American voters in three counties covered by the Voting Rights Act. In October 2011, the Census Bureau announced that under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, bilingual ballots and language assistance must be provided to Asian American voters in 11 states, covering 22 cities and counties, and in six Asian languages. Now for the first time, South Asian languages will be covered in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City (Queens), and Hamtramck, Michigan. Chinese and Filipino ballots will be provided in four more districts each, Vietnamese in three more districts, and Korean in one more district.

Section 203 Fact Sheets >

Press releases: Queens to Provide Bengali, Hindi, and Punjabi Language Assistance in Upcoming Elections (April 30, 2012)

Eleven States Must Now Provide Asian American Voters with Bilingual Ballots (October 12, 2011)