The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a 38-year old civil rights organization, released a new report today documenting the many obstacles faced by Asian American voters during the Presidential Primary Elections in early 2012.
Asian Americans are the nation's fastest growing minority group. With large numbers of first-time voters, Asian Americans have faced numerous barriers to voting. AALDEF's report, Language Access for Asian Americans under the Voting Rights Act in the 2012 Elections, documents violations of the Language Assistance Provisions (Section 203) Voting Rights Act and Help America Vote Act (HAVA), as well as other incidents of Asian American voter disenfranchisement in 13 jurisdictions in 10 states: IL, MA, MI, NJ, NV, NY, GA, PA, TX, and WA.
"With only two weeks left until the November election, time is running out for election officials to address these voting barriers," said Margaret Fung, AALDEF Executive Director. "As we have done in every major election since 1988, we will be monitoring the polls in 14 states during the Presidential Election we will be monitoring the polls to ensure that Asian Americans can exercise their right to vote."
On October 13, 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau announced the new jurisdictions and languages covered under Section 203. As a result, bilingual ballots, translated voter registration forms, and interpreters must now be provided to voters in 11 states, covering 22 cities and counties, in six Asian languages.
For over a year, AALDEF has monitored local jurisdictions' compliance with Section 203 and HAVA. Furthermore, AALDEF has been meeting with local elections officials, examining translated voting materials and elections websites, and reviewing implementation plans to assess the effectiveness, quality, and accessibility of language assistance plans for 13 jurisdictions in 10 states.
• Atlanta, Georgia
• Bergen County, New Jersey
• Boston, Massachusetts
• Clark County, Nevada
• Cook County, Illinois
• Hamtramck, Michigan
• Harris County, Texas
• King County, Washington
• Kings County, New York
• New York County, NY
• Queens County, New York
• Quincy, Massachusetts
• Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
During the 2012 Presidential Primary Elections, AALDEF received several complaints of barriers to voting in 56 poll sites in five of these jurisdictions. The most extreme problem areas are detailed in the report.
Regarding local compliance with federal laws, AALDEF's election monitoring revealed multiple deficiencies, including poorly implemented language access plans, poll workers who hindered rather than assisted Asian American voters, and mistranslated websites that misled and confused workers. Some specific examples include:
• Translated ballots that are legally required under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act were unavailable or had serious translation errors and omissions.
• Notably, after the 2011 Census determined that new jurisdictions across the country must provide bilingual ballots in Indian languages, New York City failed to provide Bengali ballots in the four elections since, in direct contravention of the Voting Rights Act.
• Due to the NYC Board of Elections's failure to provide adequate signage in Bengali and other Asian Indian languages, the Bengali and Hindi-speaking interpreters in Queens, NY were relegated to sitting in front of an "Interpreter Available" sign that was written in Chinese. At poll sites in predominantly South Asian neighborhoods, voters did not know that language assistance was available or from whom to ask for assistance.
• Additionally, Bergen County, NJ, Hamtramck, MI, Quincy, MA, and Harris County, TX likewise failed to transliterate candidates' names on the ballots, leaving some voters struggling or even unable to accurately identify which candidate they chose to vote for.In many cases, interpreters were either too few in number or missing altogether in Hamtramck, MI, Bergen County, NJ, and Philadelphia, PA.
• Poll workers in Quincy, MA and Queens, NY disparaged translated voting materials and made offensive, nativist remarks about language assistance.
• Poll worker preparation was a consistent problem. For example, in Philadelphia, PA, a poll worker required a voter to vote for additional candidates when the voter only intended to vote in the presidential race. In Flushing, NY, another poll worker told registered Republican voters to leave, incorrectly stating that only Democrats were having a primary election.
• Election websites were replete with navigation problems and translation errors:
o The links for the translated elections web pages of Bergen County, NJ and Quincy, MA led users to web pages that were in English.
o Chinese voters in Suburban Cook County, IL, who wanted to confirm that they were registered to vote or to find their assigned poll sites, were directed to input their "last 4 nuclear submarines," instead of the last 4 digits of their social security numbers.
o Web users in Quincy, MA observed that the phrase "Presidential Primary Election" was translated into Chinese as "Election to Vote on the Primary Residence of Candidate P.”
AALDEF sent complaint letters to local election officials that detailed these voting obstacles and offered recommendations for improvements. Copies of the report and complaint letters were also sent to the U.S. Department of Justice's Voting Section for further investigation.
In the last Presidential Election, AALDEF polled nearly 16,665 Asian American voters in eleven states about Election Day problems at the polls. This November, AALDEF is expanding its effort to 14 states in November.
"Vigorous enforcement of Section 203 and other voting rights laws is needed to ensure that the voting process in the November 2012 Presidential Election and in future elections accommodates an increasingly diverse electorate," said Glenn D. Magpantay, Director of AALDEF's Democracy Program.
Download Language Access for Asian Americans under the Voting Rights Act in the 2012 Elections
The following community-based organizations assisted in monitoring the elections, identifying voting problems, and recommending improvements:
Alliance of South Asian American Labor (NY)
Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote - Michigan
Asian American Institute (IL)
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, NV Chapter
Bangladeshi American Public Affairs Committee (MI)
Chhaya Community Development Corporation (NY)
Korean American Civic Empowerment (NY, NJ)
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (DC)
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (DC)
OCA National (formerly the Organization of Chinese Americans) (DC)
OCA Las Vegas
OCA Greater Houston
South Asian Americans Leading Together (MD)
South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (IL)
Taking Our Seat (NY)
Glenn D. Magpantay
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.