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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

August 24, 2005

Written by C.N.

Voting Rights and Asian Americans

A few recent articles in the news highlight the importance of voting among communities of color in general, and within the Asian American community specifically. First, several news organizations report that as the nation celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act that finally removed all the legalistic barriers to voting, there is debate in Congress about whether the act needs to be renewed or whether it’s no longer necessary:

In the weekly Democratic radio address, [U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia] said his party is committed to strengthening the sections of the law that are set to expire at the end of next year. Conservatives are pushing for modification of two provisions. One requires nine states, mostly in the South, to get federal approval before changing voting rules. The other requires election officials to provide voting material in the native language to immigrant voters who don’t speak English.

Similarly, as reported by the New CA Media, a coalition of Asian American legal rights organizations released a report titled “Sound Barriers: Asian Americans and Language Access in Election 2004” that details several instances in which Asian American voters were not provided with the rights and opportunities for voting that the Voting Rights Act supposedly guarantees. This is just an excerpt of some of the issues encountered:

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.

As further proof of the barriers that many Asian American voters still face, the Boston Globe reports on several more instances of voter discrimination:

Voters at 11 polling stations in Boston, Quincy, and Lowell encountered ”multiple barriers” similar to those experienced by some black and Latino voters in Florida in 2000. City and state elections officials said yesterday the problems had been addressed since the group sent its letters in March.

The letters, however, provide new details of the allegations facing the city of Boston and show that other cities also experienced similar problems. The group sent its findings to the US Justice Department before the department filed a voting rights lawsuit against the city of Boston last month.

In Boston, home to about 19,000 Chinese-American and 10,000 Vietnamese-American voters, poll watchers interviewed about 500 Asian-Americans as they left five polling stations in Chinatown, Mission Hill, and Dorchester last November.

The survey found 10 voters who said they had been turned away because their names were not on the rolls and who were not offered provisional ballots as required by law. About 100 voters told interviewers that the polling stations lacked Chinese and Vietnamese ballot guides. And 62 voters had to show identification, a practice that raised questions about racial discrimination,

Personally, I still find it absolutely mind-boggling how completely screwed up the U.S. voting system is. The 2000 debacle in Florida finally exposed just how utterly incompetent and fundamentally flawed our voting system is, even 40 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Supposedly, it’s illegal to discriminate against voters of color and immigrant voters but these incidents still happen time and time again, against all non-White groups.

The irony is that the U.S. likes to pound its chest and forcefully show the world that it has the best democracy in the world. If that’s not the height of hypocrisy, I don’t know what is. But as long as these “voting irregularities” end up helping those in power stay in power, I predict that not much is going to change at all.

Absolutely incredible.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Voting Rights and Asian Americans" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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