Asian Americans File Complaint Against Philadelphia City Commissioners Over Denial of Language Access to Voters

Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014

Today, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) filed a complaint against the Philadelphia City Commissioners for refusing to provide language assistance to Asian American voters, in violation of the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance (FPO).

Jerry Vattamala, staff attorney in AALDEF's Democracy Program, said, "Asian American voters who are limited English proficient repeatedly have been unable to exercise their right to vote. This failure to provide Asian language assistance violates the FPO's prohibition against discrimination on the basis of language."

Naturalized Asian American citizens who are limited English proficient ("LEP") are a substantial segment of Philadelphia's naturalized voters. The Commissioners have failed to provide adequate Asian language assistance through interpreters and translated voter registration forms, ballots, instruction forms, and exterior signage during elections. 

The FPO protects anyone who lives in, works in, or visits Philadelphia from unlawful public accommodations discrimination, including national origin discrimination in the provision of city services. The Commissioners have violated the FPO by discriminating against LEP Asian American voters in the administration of elections, a city service.

Nancy Nguyen, Branch Manager of BPSOS-Delaware Valley, an organizational plaintiff that  had urged the Commissioners to provide Asian language access, said, "Language should not be a barrier for any individual who wishes to exercise his or her protected right to vote as a citizen of this country. We watched person after person being turned away at the polls in multiple elections due to language barriers. A vote lost is a voice silenced--we cannot allow this to continue."

The Commissioners provided only four Asian language interpreters for the entire city of Philadelphia for the 2012 Presidential Election, despite a history of documented need for Asian language interpreters in particular areas, such as South Philadelphia.

Rahat N. Babar, APABA-PA President, said, "As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, we must ensure that all citizens, regardless of national origin, can meaningfully exercise their fundamental right to vote. This complaint seeks to protect Philadelphia's most vulnerable voters."

Vattamala said:  "Asian LEP voters in Philadelphia will continue to experience unlawful public accommodations discrimination without an order of relief from the PCHR."

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For additional information, contact:
Jerry Vattamala, Democracy Program Staff Attorney
212.966.5932 x209


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