By Elizabeth Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly
With a month left before Election Day, I am reminded of my first voting booth experience. Still in elementary school, I accompanied my mom to our polling site in Brooklyn, N.Y., as her translator.
Although the poll worker wore an uncertain expression on her face and hesitated, she obliged as I helped my mom fill out the forms and walked into the booth with her, where I helped my mom vote for the first time. At that age, I had no idea the importance of the right that my mom was exercising as a citizen. Already a frequent translator for my family, I neither understood nor appreciated the significance of my role on that Election Day.
The Democratic Party appreciates my mother’s experience and that of others who need language and other assistance at the voting booth. Democrats understand that to strengthen democracy, we need to outreach to all of our communities.
That is why Obama for America has Asian American Pacific Islander field teams throughout the country registering voters, knocking on doors and making in-language phone calls. That is why the Democratic National Committee has established task forces such as the Asian American and Pacific Islander Voter Protection Task Force, of which I am the Washington coordinator. We work to ensure that all rights guaranteed by our federal and state laws are protected for all voters, regardless of ethnicity or English proficiency.
Asian American and bilingual attorneys can make a difference
As bilingual attorneys, we have a crucial role to serve in ensuring that limited English proficient (LEP) voters are given equal access to the polls. In Washington, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities make up 7 percent of the state population. AAPIs, along with Latinos, are the fastest growing major racial or ethnic groups in King County, making up 14 percent of its population. More than a third (37 percent) of Asian Americans are considered LEP.
Coupled with the close margins in our state’s recent elections, the need for strong voter protection efforts cannot be overstated. Most illustrative is the 2004 governor’s race with an initial margin of only 42 votes, a margin just slightly more than one-thousandth of a percent of the 3 million votes cast, and a final margin of victory of 133 votes.
Although studies conducted after the 2004 election show that AAPI voters are turning out to vote in unprecedented numbers, many continue to face obstacles at the polls and had problems casting their vote — particularly voters with limited English skills.
Among other reported abuses, AAPI and LEP voters have reported hostile treatment from poll workers, being provided wrong information on voting procedures and rights, or not provided any assistance at all. Whether due to the ineffectual training of poll workers or plain distrust of AAPI or LEP voters, it is clear that there is a particular need in our community for bilingual attorneys to get involved in all aspects of the elections, whether as a poll worker, poll watcher or a resource for voters who are language minorities.
Join our voter protection team
We are seeking other AAPI and bilingual attorneys and law students to join our voter protection team. There are many ways that you can help: become a poll worker or poll watcher, help develop training materials on common problems facing AAPI voters, become a volunteer translator for written materials distributed in battleground states and be a bilingual resource on Election Day.
Please sign up for Barack Obama’s voter protection team at www.barackobama.com/counselforchange.
If you are interested in volunteering to protect the Asian American and Pacific Islander vote, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join Democrats across the country in helping to elect Barack Obama as our next president. And join me in this task force to ensure that voting rights of all of our communities are protected.
In addition to her volunteer work with the DNC National Lawyers Council, Elizabeth Lee is an attorney with Perkins Coie LLP.
Elizabeth Lee can be reached at email@example.com.