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AALDEF Report: Asian American Voters Face Discrimination in the 2008 Election

Friday, March 20, 2009

Asian American Voters Face Discrimination in the 2008 Election
by The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF),
New AALDEF Report Presented to Congress

March 19, 2009

Washington, D.C.-The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), a 35-year old New York-based civil rights organization, today presented Congress with a new report detailing obstacles faced by Asian American voters in eleven states and the District of Columbia in the November 2008 Presidential Elections. The report was delivered at a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties on "Lessons Learned from the 2008 Election."

The report, Asian American Access to Democracy in the 2008 Elections, documents violations of the Voting Rights Act and Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and other incidents of anti-Asian voter disenfranchisement from 52 cities across the country.

AALDEF executive director Margaret Fung said, "In the 2008 elections, Asian Americans faced an array of barriers that prevented them from exercising their right to vote. Voting rights enforcement and election reform should be top priorities for Congress and the new Administration."

On Nov. 4, 2008, AALDEF monitored 229 poll sites in 11 states - New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, Nevada, Louisiana, Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia - and conducted a multilingual exit poll of 16,665 Asian American voters. AALDEF received more than 800 complaints of voting barriers, which are described in the report. Some of the problems encountered by Asian American voters include the following:

-Language assistance, such as interpreters or translated voting materials, was far from adequate, if it existed at all. Some poll workers were completely unaware of their legal responsibilities or outright refused to make language assistance available to voters.

-New York City and Boston are required to provide language assistance, while other cities voluntarily provided assistance. However, at a poll site in Chinatown, NY, only one interpreter was available to assist hundreds of Chinese American voters. Poll workers were told they did not need more interpreters. A poll site in Dorchester, MA was missing Vietnamese provisional ballots. Boston had partially translated ballots with candidates' names written only in English. Chinese American voters had difficulty identifying their candidates of choice. Philadelphia voluntarily provided a language line that poll workers could call and get on-the-spot assistance for voters. However, during the Presidential Primary Election, poll workers did not know it existed, did not know how to access the line, or the line was overwhelmed and constantly busy.

- Some poll workers were rude, hostile, and made racist remarks. For example, poll workers in New York said they didn't trust Asian American voters and denied them the right to vote or described them as "terrorists." A Sikh voter was made to vote by provisional ballot because a poll worker said there were too many Sikh voters and she couldn't figure out which one the voter was.

-Voters' names were missing from or had other errors in voter roll books, often due to faulty processing or mishandling of voter registration forms. Many were simply turned away.

-Although HAVA requires that voters be offered provisional ballots, poll workers denied voters this right. In Lowell, MA, voters were told to go to City Hall. In Philadelphia's Chinatown, poll workers would not distribute provisional ballots because of shortages. Voters were turned away and unable to vote.

-Poll workers made improper and excessive demands for identification, misapplying HAVA's ID requirements. These demands were often only made of Asian American voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Some states requiring all voters to provide identification only applied identification checks to Asian American voters; white voters were exempted.

AALDEF sent complaint letters to local election officials that detailed these voting obstacles and offered recommendations for improvements. AALDEF staff attorney Glenn D. Magpantay said, "Vigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act is still very much needed." Copies of the complaint letters were sent to the Voting Section of the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation.

AALDEF also made other recommendations to the House Subcommittee during the hearing, calling for legislation to allow universal voter registration and HAVA amendments to clarify that voting by provisional ballot should also be used to correct errors and omissions in voter registration forms, as was recommended by the Carter/Ford National Commission on Federal Election Reform.

In addition, AALDEF will call on the United States Supreme Court to uphold Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. On April 29, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a challenge to the constitutionality of the enforcement provisions in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District One v. Holder. AALDEF will be submitting an amicus brief to the Court in late March, detailing results from its poll monitoring efforts over the years. AALDEF's brief contends that Asian Americans continue to face voting discrimination and that Section 5 is necessary and proper to protect the fundamental right to vote.

The co-sponsors below worked with AALDEF to mobilize 1,500 attorneys, law students, and community volunteers to participate in the 2008 election monitoring effort.

The report, Asian American Access to Democracy in the 2008 Elections, documents violations of the Voting Rights Act and Help America Vote Act (HAVA) and other incidents of anti-Asian voter disenfranchisement from 52 cities across the country. The report is available online at

Complete Report:

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