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New Report Highlights Problems Faced by Asian Americans as they Vote


WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 -- A new report released today, the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, underscores the importance of providing access to the ballot for Asian Americans with limited English proficiency.

The report, “Sound Barriers: Asian Americans and Language Access in Election 2004,” details the barriers faced by Asian Americans who voted during last year’s elections. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost three million Asian Americans turned out to vote on Nov. 2, 2004.

The report, released by NAPALC and its affiliates, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles, the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, and the Asian American Institute in Chicago, details their observations of 466 polling stations in Illinois, Texas, Washington, and California during the 2004 election.

Eight of the counties in these states are covered by Section 203, the language assistance provision of the Voting Rights Act. Section 203 is intended to provide limited English-speaking Asian, Latino, Native American, and Alaskan native speakers with the same information and opportunities as the English-speaking public so that they can vote. This provision will expire in 2007 and NAPALC and its affiliates are working to have it re- authorized by Congress.

“Sound Barriers” draws attention to the continuing problems experienced by Asian American voters at the polls and recommends solutions to eliminate them. Although officials in the counties monitored expressed their interest in complying with Section 203, compliance was uneven.

Among the common problems encountered by Asian American voters with limited English proficiency (LEP) in these polling sites were:

-- Poll workers were frequently reluctant to help, were unaware of how to help, or were suspicious of bilingual poll workers and LEP voters. In Los Angeles County, CA, a poll worker sent an Asian American voter to the back of the line for “causing too much trouble” due to the voter’s limited English proficiency.

-- About 46 percent of the polling sites monitored had multilingual materials but these were inaccessible to those who needed them. In 96 polling stations, there were no instructions in other languages on how to use the voting machines, the sample ballots or even directional signs.

-- Many poll workers did not understand why multilingual materials were necessary. In Cook County, IL, one election judge who could not understand a voter said that the voter should learn to speak English.

-- In many of the polling sites, there were no signs indicating the availability of interpreters and bilingual poll workers were not identified as such. About 50 percent of the poll workers in Chicago, Cook County, IL, and 62 percent of the bilingual poll workers in King County, WA, did not wear badges indicating their language ability.

These polling sites were required to provide language assistance in Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean. As of 2002, 16 counties in 7 states throughout the nation are required to provide language assistance under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. Eleven of them were required to provide language assistance in Asian languages for the first time.

To overcome the barriers encountered by Asian American voters, the researchers recommended the following solutions:

-- Improve the training of poll workers. Poll workers need to be trained more thoroughly about voting laws so that they can be more helpful. Problematic poll workers and those who discriminate should be removed from the polling site immediately.

-- Increase voter education outreach with the help of community organizations. In Asian American communities, this will streamline the voting process and decrease voting time.

-- Increase accessibility of multilingual materials for LEP voters. Require the polling supervisor to periodically check that multilingual materials are sufficiently stocked and are easily accessible and visible.

-- Increase the recruitment of bilingual poll workers across the board. This can be done in consultation with community organizations and the ethnic media.

The Department of Justice reports that enforcement of and compliance with Section 203 and other provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) resulted in an increase in the number of Asian Americans voting. In San Diego County, voter registration among Filipino Americans increased by 20 percent and 40 percent for Vietnamese Americans. In Harris County, TX, turnout among Vietnamese American voters doubled following the DOJ’s efforts to ensure compliance with the VRA.

The 466 polling stations monitored in “Sound Barriers: Asian Americans and Language Access in Elections 2004” were in Cook County, IL; Harris County, TX; King County, WA; and in California, Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Mateo County, San Diego, and Santa Clara.

Aside from NAPALC, APALC, AAI, and the ALC, research for the report was also conducted by VN Team Works, Chinese Information Service Center, Asian American Legal Center, the Council of Philippine American Organizations, the Asian Law Alliance, and the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance.

Funding for this project was provided by the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation. A copy of the report is available at and


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