A recent review by The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans, reported that Asian Americans experienced voting barriers and discrimination at poll sites in midterm elections. This affected new citizens with limited English proficiency and first-time voters. They recorded voter complaints at polling places and conducted a nonpartisan multilingual exit poll.
A preliminary list of voting problems encountered included:
In Philadelphia, Vietnamese American voters in need of language assistance did not have access to interpreters. A limited-English proficient Vietnamese American sought to vote in the race for governor, but a poll worker improperly assisted the voter by pushing the button on the voting machine himself.
The poll worker also told the voter to vote “yes” on all ballot propositions. Also in Philadelphia, a poll worker refused to allow an Asian American voter to use the designated translation phone line, insisting that the service did not work. The voter left without voting.
In New York, multiple sites throughout the city had shortages of Asian-language interpreters. Chinese interpreters had to assist Korean-speaking voters. One election district was missing Chinese-language ballots and another was missing Korean-language ballots. In another district, South Asian American voters were confused about the ballot layout. The problem of over-voting led to several ballots being rejected by the scanner.
In Detroit, 30 South Asian American voters complained about the lack of interpreters. According to AALDEF, several voters spoiled their ballots when they could not properly identify their candidates of choice. “Some believed that the first question on the ballot was a test, asking the voter ‘Who is the current governor?’ rather than ‘Who is your choice for governor?’ Some voters inadvertently voted for the incumbent governor.”
In Boston, a voter was told that her name was not listed in the voter rolls. Instead of offering the voter a provisional ballot, as required under election law, poll workers told her to “go register and vote in the next election.”
There seems to be a tremendous need for more qualified interpreters at poll sites. It is interesting to note that AALDEF polled voters in states with large Asian American populations. The states included New York, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C.
Notice that Washington state was not on the list. This correlates with recent U.S. Census Bureau statistics that reveal Seattle is the fifth whitest metropolitan city in the nation. But perhaps that discussion should be saved for a different editorial. (end)