Asian Americans Voters Face Discrimination: Report

Matthew Bigg, Reuters, January 10, 2008v

Asian American voters fear the discrimination some faced at polling stations in 2006 could resurface as they cast ballots in November’s presidential election, a civil rights group said on Thursday.

Laws that enable Asian Americans from countries including China, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines to get language and other kinds of assistance with voting were often flouted at the 2006 mid-term congressional elections, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund [AALDEF].

The group cited examples of Asian Americans being asked to provide more identification than other citizens, in contravention of federal law. Those not on voter rolls but still eligible to vote were often not given provisional ballots to complete, it said in a report.

Under the landmark Voting Rights Act and a subsequent act, election officials in districts with more than 10,000 registered Asian Americans, or ones where their voting population exceeds 5 percent of a district’s total, are mandated to provide certain help.

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“Our major concern is that there is going to be a large number of newly registered Asian voters (in 2008) and many of the problems we have observed in 2006 will not have been fixed,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of the fund.

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The group said it registered 200 complaints during monitoring of 172 polling sites and a multilingual survey of over 4,700 Asian American voters in nine states.

The Asian American community is predominantly immigrant and some 670,000 are covered under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The majority live in Los Angeles or elsewhere in California. The next largest group lives in New York, followed by Hawaii, Houston and Chicago, Fung said.

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Exit polls taken in nine states in 2006 showed that four out of five Asian Americans voted for the Democratic Party but Fung said she did not know if the problems some encountered were an attempt to disenfranchise them for political reasons.

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[Editor’s Note: “Asian American Access to Democracy in the 2006 Elections” can be read or downloaded as a PDF file here. The AALDEF’s press release appears below.]


January 8, 2008

For more information:

Glenn D. Magpantay

Staff Attorney

212.966.5932 ext. 206

Margaret Fung

Executive Director

212.966.5932 ext. 201

New Report: Asian American Voters Face Discrimination, Improper Voter ID Checks in 2006 Elections

New York, NY—The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a 34-year old civil rights organization, today released a new report detailing several obstacles faced by Asian American voters in nine states in the November 2006 Midterm Elections.

AALDEF’s report, Asian American Access to Democracy in the 2006 Elections, documents violations of the Voting Rights Act and Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and other incidents of anti-Asian voter disenfranchisement in 25 cities in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Washington, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. The report is available online at www.aaldef.org/docs/Election_2006_Report_AALDEF.pdf.

Margaret Fung, AALDEF executive director, said: “As states prepare for the 2008 Presidential Elections, we urge election officials to remove the barriers that prevent Asian American citizens from exercising their right to vote.”

On Nov. 7, 2006, AALDEF monitored 172 poll sites in 9 states and conducted a multilingual exit poll of over 4,700 Asian American voters. AALDEF received more than 200 complaints of voting barriers, which are described in the report. They include:

* Poll workers made improper or excessive demands for identification—often only from Asian American voters—and misapplied HAVA’s ID requirements. In Boston, an interpreter appointed by the Elections Department required all Chinese-speaking voters to show IDs before they could receive a translated ballot; none of the English-speaking voters were similarly asked for their IDs.

* Poll workers hindered voter access to interpreters and translated voting materials required under the Voting Rights Act. In New York, Chinese American voters were given Spanish-language ballots.

* Asian American voters’ names were missing or incorrectly transcribed in voter lists at poll sites. HAVA requires that these voters be offered provisional ballots, but poll workers denied voters this right. In New Jersey, poll workers told Asian American voters to go to the Borough Clerk’s office.

* Poll workers were unable to direct voters to their proper poll sites or precincts. In Philadelphia, one voter was driven to tears after being sent to several places and given no correct addresses. In New York, a husband and wife were improperly sent to different lines at different election districts within the same poll site.

AALDEF sent complaint letters to local election officials that detailed these voting obstacles and offered recommendations for improvements. AALDEF staff attorney Glenn D. Magpantay said, “Our findings demonstrate that vigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act is still needed.” Copies of the report and complaint letters were sent to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Voting Section for further investigation.

On January 9, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two challenges to the constitutionality of voter identification requirements, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita. AALDEF submitted an amicus brief to the Court, citing results from its 2004 and 2006 election monitoring efforts. AALDEF’s brief contends that voter ID laws disenfranchise Asian Americans and prevent racial and language minorities from exercising their fundamental right to vote. The amicus brief can be downloaded at www.aaldef.org/docs/2007-11-09-aaldef-crawford-amicus-brief.pdf.

In the last Presidential Election, AALDEF polled nearly 11,000 Asian American voters in eight states about Election Day problems at the polls. Plans for AALDEF’s 2008 multilingual exit poll and election monitoring project will be announced soon.

The following co-sponsors worked with AALDEF to mobilize almost 600 attorneys, law students, and community volunteers to participate in the 2006 election monitoring effort.

National Co-Sponsors:

Asian Pacific Islander American Vote

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Korean American Service & Education Consortium

Organization of Chinese Americans

People For the American Way Foundation

South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow

Shearman & Sterling LLP

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

Local Co-Sponsors:

Asian American Bar Association of New York

Asian American Bar Association of the Delaware Valley

Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts

Asian Bar Association of Washington

Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington, DC Area

Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of New Jersey

Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center—DC

Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia

Chinatown Voter Education Alliance—NY

Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans of Virginia

Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership—DC

Filipino American Human Services, Inc.—NY

Greater Boston Legal Services, Asian Outreach Unit

Korean American League for Civic Action—NY

Korean American Resource & Cultural Center—IL

Korean American Voters’ Council of NY & NJ

ONE Lowell—MA

Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition

Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation

YKASEC—Empowering the Korean American Community—NY

The Sikh Coalition—NY

South Asian Youth Action!—NY

Vietnamese American Initiative for Development—MA

and Asian Pacific American Law Students Association chapters across the country.

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