Election Monitors Observe Obstacles for Immigrant Voters

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OAKLAND — Poll watchers throughout the region documented a host of problems in the opening hours of Tuesday’s presidential election. As a result, many Asian American immigrant voters did not receive the minimum level of language assistance as required by law.

The Asian Law Caucus trained and deployed elections monitors in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo and Sacramento counties. Examples of problems observed included the following:

Missing bilingual poll workers: In Alameda County, elections monitors observed that poll workers fluent in various Asian languages were missing. Certain areas of the county were identified by the registrar for language assistance due to the high density of immigrant voters. However, at venues such as the Oakland Fire Station and the Glenview School, such assistance was not present when the day began.

Missing translated materials: In Alameda County, elections monitors documented missing translated ballots in certain Asian languages at polling sites with a high number of Asian immigrant voters. For example, at Global Family Elementary School in Oakland, the bilingual Vietnamese/English ballots and the Tagalog/English ballots were unavailable to voters. At the Popular Recreation Center in Oakland, monitors noted a lack of bilingual signage to indicate Chinese language assistance was available.

“As one out of every three Asian Americans is limited English proficient (LEP), language is often one of the strongest barriers preventing new citizens from being able to fully participate in the electoral system. Many rely on the protections afforded by federal law to cast an informed ballot,” stated Hyeon-Ju Rho, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus.

This is the first presidential election where Alameda County is required to provide assistance in Tagalog and Vietnamese, and the first where Sacramento County is providing language assistance in Chinese. Special efforts were undertaken by poll monitors to ensure that voters who speak these languages were offered translated ballots as well as access to oral assistance.

Under Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act, counties must provide language assistance if the number of eligible voters qualifying for such assistance meets certain threshold numbers. Language assistance must be provided both before and on Election Day, and it includes providing bilingual poll workers and translated voting materials at polling places.

Numerous studies have shown that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing immigrant group in the country, including here in California. This past decade is the first time in U.S. history that Asian immigrants surpassed Latinos as the largest group immigrating to the country.

ALC recruited monitors to cover nearly 450 poll sites in total. Over 270 volunteers, attorneys, and students participated. ALC is also working in partnership with affiliates at the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice to conduct this voter protection project throughout the country.

On the Web: www.asianlawcaucus.org

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