aaldef's new report on voter discrimination

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund's new report, Asian American Access to Democracy in the 2008 Elections, documents violations of the Voting Rights Act and Help America Vote Act and other incidents of anti-Asian voter disenfranchisement from 52 cities across the country during the November 2008 Presidential Elections.

Last week, AALDEF presented Congress with the report at a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties on "Lessons Learned from the 2008 Election": Asian American Voters Face Discrimination in the 2008 Election.

On November 4, 2008, AALDEF monitored 229 poll sites in 11 states -- New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, Nevada, Louisiana, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia -- and conducted a multilingual exit poll of 16,665 Asian American voters. Some of the problems encountered by Asian American voters include the following:
  • Language assistance, such as interpreters or translated voting materials, was far from adequate, if it existed at all. Some poll workers were completely unaware of their legal responsibilities or outright refused to make language assistance available to voters.

  • New York City and Boston are required to provide language assistance, while other cities voluntarily provided assistance. However, at a poll site in Chinatown, NY, only one interpreter was available to assist hundreds of Chinese American voters. Poll workers were told they did not need more interpreters. A poll site in Dorchester. MA was missing Vietnamese provisional ballots. Boston had partially translated ballots with candidates' names written only in English. Chinese American voters had difficulty identifying their candidates of choice. Philadelphia voluntarily provided a language line that poll workers could call and get on-the-spot assistance for voters. However, during the Presidential Primary Election, poll workers did not know it existed, did not know how to access the line, or the line was overwhelmed and constantly busy.

  • Some poll workers were rude, hostile, and made racist remarks. For example, poll workers in New York said they didn't trust Asian American voters and denied them the right to vote or described them as "terrorists." A Sikh voter was made to vote by provisional ballot because a poll worker said there were too many Sikh voters and she couldn't figure out which one the voter was.

  • Voters' names were missing from or had other errors in voter roll books, often due to faulty processing or mishandling of voter registration forms. Many were simply turned away.

  • Although HAVA requires that voters be offered provisional ballots, poll workers denied voters this right. In Lowell, MA, voters were told to go to City Hall. In Philadelphia's Chinatown, poll workers would not distribute provisional ballots because of shortages. Voters were turned away and unable to vote.

  • Poll workers made improper and excessive demands for identification, misapplying HAVA's ID requirements. These demands were often only made of Asian American voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Some states requiring all voters to provide identification only applied identification checks to Asian American voters; white voters were exempted.
Not surprising, really. It seems that many Asian American voters faced discrimination on a variety of levels at the polls, from general ignorance and inconvenience, to just outright hostile racism.

AALDEF sent complaint letters to local election officials that detailed these voting obstacles and offered recommendations for improvements. Complaints and recommendations are great, but I hope these local agencies follow through to make sure this does not happen again. To read AALDEF's report, download it here (PDF).

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