New Report on 2012 Election Finds Language Assistance A Key Issue for Asian American Voters

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Yesterday, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) released a report examining whether counties complied with their obligations to provide language assistance to Asian American voters during the 2012 presidential election. The report is based on advocacy with election officials and poll monitoring to ensure compliance with language assistance laws at nearly 900 election precincts across 14 jurisdictions in seven states, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington state.

Under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions must provide language assistance if the number of eligible voters qualifying for such assistance meets certain threshold numbers, as determined by the Census Bureau. Language assistance must be provided both before and on Election Day, and includes providing bilingual poll workers and translated voting materials at polling places. Monitors trained by Advancing Justice and its partner organizations visited polling places to check for the presence of bilingual poll workers and translated voting materials and also to ensure that voters were treated fairly.
Nationally, the report finds low visibility or no display of translated materials at 45 percent of the poll sites monitored, and a lack of bilingual poll workers at a quarter of poll sites monitored. The report also finds variation across jurisdictions in how language assistance requirements were implemented. The report sets forth specific findings for 14 jurisdictions that are required by Section 203 to provide assistance in one or more Asian languages, including several jurisdictions newly subject to such requirements.
“Although language assistance was not well-provided in several instances, some jurisdictions have adopted effective methods of preparing for Election Day and providing assistance to voters who need it. The report highlights these best practices so that election officials across the country can better take note of them,” stated Deanna Kitamura, senior staff attorney at Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. In a meeting on Tuesday, Kitamura presented the report to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, which was established by President Obama to study election administration to improve the experience voters will have in future elections.
“When done right, voter registration and turnout increase for Section 203-covered communities,” stated Terry Ao Minnis, senior staff attorney at Advancing Justice – AAJC. “Election officials must engage community leaders in the early stages of developing their language assistance plans, particularly when they are covered for a new Asian language.”
“Our democracy is strongest when as many individuals as possible can participate,” stated Carolyn Hsu, staff attorney at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. “There are solutions and best practices that election officials can adopt, such as more emphasis on language assistance during poll worker trainings, to make sure that voters have full access to the assistance they are entitled to under federal and state laws.”
“This report is intended as a resource for election officials and community advocates,” said Andrew Kang, legal director at Advancing Justice – Chicago. “The report will be used to improve language assistance preparation for future elections.”

The report is available online at www.advancingjustice.org.

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