Despite high voter turnout, Asian Americans face barriers to voting on Election Day

Tuesday, Nov 8, 2016

New York City...Many Asian American voters across the country, especially new citizens and first-time voters, encountered barriers and discrimination at polling places, including improper requests for identification, inadequate language assistance, no provisional ballots, being sent to multiple incorrect poll sites, and discrimination against American Muslim women wearing hijabs or niqabs. Some voters who submitted timely applications for absentee ballots in NY or mail-in ballots in San Jose, Calif. never received their ballots and could not vote.

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a New York-based national organization, dispatched more than 950 attorneys, law students, and community volunteers to 137 polling places in 14 states with large Asian American populations, where they recorded voter complaints and conducted a nonpartisan multilingual exit poll of Asian American voters. AALDEF also received reports of voting barriers via a multilingual telephone hotline, by email, and on social media.

"Asian American voters had to overcome numerous obstacles in order to exercise their right to vote today," said Jerry Vattamala, Director of AALDEF's Democracy Program. "Our attorneys are investigating every complaint, and we will report our findings and observations to local and state election officials, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice."

A summary of voting problems reported on Election Day follows:

Norcross, GA
-At the Lucky Shoals Community Center in Gwinnett County, where heavy voter turnout was expected, Asian American and Latino voters were not allowed to be assisted by a person of their choice, as required by section 208 of the Voting Rights Act. Voters waited three hours on line and were sent to the wrong poll sites by poll workers. Several voting machines broke down, and poll workers said they ran out of provisional ballots.

Canton, Michigan
-At Summit on the Park, a poll worker told an American Muslim female voter to remove her niqab and reveal her face before showing her voter ID. 

Philadelphia, PA
-Several voters at South Philadelphia Branch Library and Reed Street Presbyterian Apartments in South Philadelphia said they were sent to the wrong poll sites and not given referral slips to the correct sites. Voters were not offered provisional ballots if their names were not on the voter rolls, as required by the Help America Vote Act. In addition, there was a need for Vietnamese language assistance, but there were no on-site interpreters, and poll workers said they were not aware of AT&T Language Line services. 

-At Chinese Church & Christian Center, there were long lines, with some voters waiting over two hours.

Bensalem, PA
-Trump supporters followed many voters entering the poll site and looked over the shoulders of Asian American voters who filled out AALDEF exit poll questionnaires. Voters were not given provisional ballots if their names did not appear on the voter rolls.

Fairfax, VA
-At Mosby Woods Elementary School, an Asian American voter was refused a provisional ballot after requesting one several times from a poll worker.

New York, NY
Improper requests for voter IDs. Asian American voters were asked to present voter IDs at several poll sites, including P.S. 217 in Midwood, Brooklyn, and at PS 222 and IS 230 in Jackson Heights, Queens. Voter IDs are not required in NY, except for certain first-time voters. 

Absentee ballots not received. We received two complaints from voters who requested absentee ballots from the NYC Board of Elections but never received them, even though their applications were submitted months before Election Day. They were unable to vote.

Broken voting machines. There were several reports of ballot scanner machines breaking down throughout the city, including PS 62 in Richmond Hills and Confucius Plaza in Manhattan's Chinatown. 

-At PS 214 in Flushing, Queens, one poll worker told several Asian American voters that they had to vote for all candidates on a party ticket in order for their ballots to be counted. That poll worker was later removed after our complaints to the NYC Board of Elections.

-At PS 20 in Flushing, Queens, Asian American voters said they were treated rudely by one poll worker, who refused to give voters affidavit ballots when their names could not be found in the voter rolls. Several voters also complained about poll worker misinformation when told they were at the wrong poll site. 

-At PS 85 in Astoria, Queens, our poll monitors reported that interpreters were situated far away from Asian American voters, making it difficult for them to secure language assistance that was available, as required by section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

-At P.S. 217 in Midwood, Bengali women complained they were singled out by poll workers to show voter ID because they were wearing hijabs. In addition, although many voters needed Bengali language assistance, interpreters and translated materials at Brooklyn site are not mandated under the Voting Rights Act.

-At Confucius Plaza in Manhattan's Chinatown and PS 62 in Richmond Hill, Queens, where ballot scanners broke down, voters were not given emergency ballots. Instead, they were told to fill out regular ballots that would be scanned later, creating uncertainty about whether their votes would be counted.

Jersey City, NJ
-At Fire House on Sip Avenue, where the voting machine broke down, an Asian American voter was told to come back later when it was fixed, rather than being given an emergency ballot.

San Jose, CA
-Voters in San Jose said they never received their mail-in ballots and had difficult voting in person.

Additional information about problems reported by Asian American voters, as well as the results of AALDEF's Asian American Exit Poll on Election Day, will be released later this week. AALDEF has conducted nonpartisan exit polls since 1988. In the 2012 presidential election, AALDEF polled 9,096 Asian American voters in 12 languages in 14 states.

For more information, contact:
Jerry Vattamala, Democracy Program Director
212.966.5932 x209

Margaret Fung, Executive Director
212.966.5932 x201

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The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), founded in 1974, is a New York-based 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.  AALDEF partnered with 121 national and local groups, law firms, and student associations to mobilize volunteers for Election Day.


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