UNION CITY, CA – Attorneys from the Asian Law Caucus and the Asian Law Alliance have released a report on their preliminary findings of the November 2, 2010 election detailing numerous deficiencies at polling places in four Bay Area counties. These challenges made it more difficult to cast a ballot for voters with limited proficiency in English.
“We encountered a wide-ranging set of problems that can be easily fixed but should have never been issues in the first place,” said Christopher Punongbayan, Deputy Director, Asian Law Caucus. “The law requires that assistance be given at polling sites where there are high numbers of limited English proficient voters, but we documented a number of instances where this simply did not happen,” he added.
Poll watchers fanned out to over 200 polling locations in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties. Their job was to monitor the ease and access to the voting booth, with a special eye towards challenges facing voters from Asian American communities. What these poll watchers found was quite problematic. Among the findings:
• Obstacles in obtaining adequate written language assistance
• Obstacles in obtaining adequate oral language assistance
• Voters forced to wait unnecessarily or being turned away due to language barriers
• Improper requests for identification before voters were allowed to cast their ballots
“There are simple and common-sense solutions that should be enacted to ensure that language is not a barrier to voting,” said Richard Konda, Executive Director, Asian Law Alliance. “We are ready to work with every Registrar of Voters to make it happen so that elections in 2011, 2012 and beyond can be improved for all Limited English speakers,” he added.
There are common-sense solutions available. In compliance with their legal obligations, the Registrars of Voters or Elections Department in all four Counties should continue to improve their efforts in rendering assistance to limited English proficient voters by:
• Ensuring that translated voting materials are available and accessible at all polling sites
• Increasing overall the number of bilingual election workers available on election day
• Providing adequate notice that language access is available through signage and election
• Improving trainings for all election workers on their obligations to voters who have
limited proficiency in English
“Tens of thousands of Bay Area citizens are counting on their county government to get it right,” added Konda. “Registrars of Voters may have a tough job but we want to make sure they fully understand the impact that language barriers have on limited English proficient citizens.”
Additional Background & County-by-County Anecdotes:
For the California election held on November 2, 2010, the Asian Law Alliance (ALA) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) monitored elections operations in four Bay Area Counties. A total of 230 polling sites overall were inspected: 75 polling sites in Alameda County, 36 in San Mateo County, 135 in Santa Clara County, and 84 in San Francisco County.
Some examples of they types of problems they encountered include:
In Alameda County at polling site 822010 (Pioneer School at 32737 Bel Aire Street, Union City), there were no bilingual ballots available in Chinese or in Spanish even though 16% of all registered voters in this precinct are Chinese and 19% are Latino.
At polling site 337100 (AC Transit at 1600 Franklin Street, Oakland), there were translated ballots for Part A, but the translated ballots were missing for Parts B and C. A full 14% of all registered voters in this precinct are Chinese.
Santa Clara County
At polling site 1763 (Country Hills Apartments at 124 Rancho Dr, San Jose) only Chinese sample ballots were displayed. When asked, the inspector said that no other languages were available even though they had more language materials to offer in the previous year and a bilingual Vietnamese election worker was assigned to the poll site. 13% of all registered Vietnamese voters in Santa Clara County were assigned to this precinct.
San Mateo County
In San Mateo County at polling site 1506 (Fire station at 785 Crestview Drive, Millbrae), all voters were forced to furnish proof of identity in order to vote. However, Identification is not required by California law and under federal law, identification requirements apply to only a very narrow set of first time voters. However, the poll monitor observed that every voter was improperly instructed to produce a form of identification. This potentially raises significant voting rights concerns especially for limited English proficient, immigrant voters especially among the 18% of all registered voters in this precinct that are Chinese.
In San Francisco at polling site 2123 (Firehouse at 651 26th Avenue), two Chinese bilingual election workers and one Spanish bilingual election worker were assigned by the County. However, the poll monitor observed no Chinese bilingual election workers. Over 27% of all registered voters in this precinct are Chinese; there were 77 requests for Chinese language assistance; and 119 registered Chinese voters who were born in a Chinese-speaking country.
About Asian Law Alliance:
Over the past 33 years, the Asian Law Alliance has helped tens of thousands of people in obtaining decent housing, justice in the immigration process, and access to basic human and legal rights. Today, Asian/Pacific Islanders continue to be denied fundamental rights. ALA continues to keep its doors open for those individuals who are limited in English, who do not understand the legal system, who cannot afford legal fees and who face the reality of discrimination.
About The Asian Law Caucus:
The Asian Law Caucus was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights Asian American organization. Recognizing that social, economic, political and racial inequalities continue to exist in the United States, ALC is committed to the pursuit of equality and justice for all sectors of our society, with a specific focus directed toward addressing the needs of low income, immigrant and underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Asian Law Caucus is a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice.