Broken Voting Machines and Lack of Language Assistance Hurt Asian American Vote

Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013

During today's mayoral primary, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund's (AALDEF) poll monitors found broken voting machines, missing interpreters, a lack of translated materials, and even racist remarks by poll workers.

AALDEF sent attorneys to over 50 polling places in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan to monitor today's mayoral primary for compliance with the language assistance provisions (Section 203) of the federal Voting Rights Act and to document other voting barriers.

"New York's elections continue to unduly challenge Asian Americans voters with insufficient language access services," said Glenn Magpantay, Director of the Democracy Program at AALDEF.

Poll monitors reported a number of voting barriers. In a poll site in Jamaica, Queens (PS 131), two voting machines were broken. Despite over twenty calls to the Board of Elections, they remained unfixed until the afternoon, causing at least 15 voters to walk away. In a poll site in Astoria, Queens (PS 171), no interpreters were available in Chinese, Bengali, or Korean, as required, despite repeated voter requests. At PS 85 in Astoria, Queens, one poll inspector said that he believed all the material should just be in English because "all the idiots should learn English." 

All observations were reported to the Board of Elections. A summary of voting problems follows:

Broken Voting Machines

  • At PS 131 in Jamaica, Queens, since 6am, two voting machines broke down at a site where there were numerous Bengali voters.  The Board of Elections was called over 20 times. A technician did not show up until after 1pm. In that time, poll workers ran out of emergency ballots.  At least 15 voters were observed leaving unable to vote. 

  • At Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens, two voting machines broke (more than once).  Poll workers allowed voters to vote on "emergency ballots" but then did not know what to do with the ballots. 

  • At Southbridge Tower in Chinatown, Manhattan, two voting machines broke down.

  • At Thomas A. Edison H.S. in Jamaica, Queens, one voting machine broke down and several dozen South Asian voters were unable to vote.

Missing Interpreters

Various poll sites had shortages of interpreters to assist voters, including:

  • PS 131 in Jamaica, Queens (missing Hindi and Bengali interpreters despite multiple Bengali voters).

  • PS 89 in Elmhurst, Queens (missing Korean interpreters).

  • Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens (missing Chinese interpreters).

  • PS 171 Peter Van Alst in Astoria, Queens (no interpreters in Chinese, Bengali, or Korean).
  • PS 130 and 143 in Chinatown, Manhattan (interpreter unable to translate new address of poll site for voter).

Lack of Translated Materials

The lack of translated materials included:

  • Southbridge Tower in Chinatown, Manhattan: the poll site had no translated affidavit ballots.

  • PS 234 in Astoria, Queens: the poll coordinator refused to put up the translated voting machine instructions. 

  • PS 89 in Elmhurst, Queens: there was a missing "Voter Bill of Rights" sign, as required under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

  • PS 126 in Chinatown, Manhattan: the "No Electioneering" sign was hung upside down.

  • Cardozo High School, Bayside, Queens: instructions on how to vote were missing in Korean. There were no "Interpreter Available" table tents identifying Chinese and Korean interpreters.

  • Rutgers Houses in Lower East Side, Manhattan: one election district ran out of voter registration forms translated into Chinese.

Pollworker Problems

  • At PS 85 in Astoria, Queens, one poll inspector said that he believed all material should just be in English because "all the idiots should learn English."

  • At St. Andrew's Church in Flushing, Queens, a poll inspector initially told a voter whose first name was written incorrectly in the voter rolls (but whose last name and address were correct) that she could not vote. When another poll inspector intervened and allowed that voter to vote by affidavit ballot, the poll worker said that voting by affidavit ballot "should be illegal."

Poll Site Confusion

  • PS 1 in Chinatown, Manhattan was closed to the surprise of many Chinese American voters. Voters were re-routed at the last minute to PS 126, resulting in a very crowded poll site.

  • At PS 171 Peter Van Alst in Astoria, Queens, the poll site coordinator never appeared, leaving all poll workers confused and nervous.

Glenn D. Magpantay
212.966.5932 x.206

Ujala Sehgal
212.966.5932 x.217

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans.  By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all. 


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