Asian Pacific American Groups Monitor Nearly 200 Poll Sites in California



November 9, 2006


Christina Wong, CAA (415) 274-6760 ext. 308

(415) 994-5618 (cell)

Eugene Lee, APALC (213) 977-7500 ext. 212

Asian Pacific American Groups Monitor Nearly 200 Poll Sites in California

Findings Underscore Importance of Voters Having Access to Language Assistance

San Francisco and Los Angeles – CAA | Chinese for Affirmative Action/Center for Asian American Advocacy and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) led an unprecedented coordinated effort to monitor nearly 200 polling places in the Bay Area and Southern California during the November 2006 general election. Observations made by trained poll monitors show that when poll sites fail to provide translated voting materials and bilingual poll workers as required by law, limited English proficient voters face difficulty in casting their ballots.

“For many limited English proficient voters, access to language assistance is the determining factor in whether they can cast a ballot,” said Luna Yasui, Policy Director at CAA. “In light of the growing linguistic diversity of California’s population, robust voter participation can be achieved only if jurisdictions fully comply with their legal obligation to provide language assistance.” Under the federal Voting Rights Act and the California Elections Code, county election officials must provide language assistance in a number of ways including translated voting guides, translated ballots and signs, bilingual poll workers, and voter hotlines staffed by bilingual operators.

Eugene Lee, Voting Rights Project Director at APALC, stated, “In addition to language barriers, immigrant voters face other barriers to exercising their vote. First-time voters often go to the wrong polling place or have difficulty using voting machines.” Federal law protects such voters’ right to vote by requiring poll sites to offer provisional ballots and accessible voting machines.

Poll Monitoring Observations in San Francisco County

In San Francisco County, the majority of polling places (307 of 561) trigger the state language assistance threshold. CAA led a team of trained volunteers to monitor 96 polling sites in San Francisco. “In San Francisco, language assistance that enables voters to cast their ballot regardless of English proficiency is absolutely critical to securing a representative government,” stated Christina Wong, Policy Advocate at CAA. “When voters do not have access to language assistance, they are effectively denied the means to participate fully in the electoral process,” she added.

Some preliminary findings from San Francisco reveal that at least 44 of the polling sites did not have Chinese and Spanish multilingual voter guides. Poll workers at 32 of the sites indicated they were unaware of the availability of the language assistance hotline for the Department of Elections. “While it is laudable that the Department of Elections has developed these language assistance tools, they aren’t much use if voters don’t know about them,” noted Wong.

In addition to missing signage and materials, CAA monitors observed poll workers who indicated they would refer voters in need of language assistance to another precinct, or that they would simply ‘speak very slowly’ to them and hope they would understand. “It is distressing to learn that voters could be turned away from their precinct because they are denied language assistance,” said Wong.

Poll Monitoring Observations in Los Angeles and Orange Counties

Over 40% of Asian Americans in Los Angeles County and 37% in Orange County who voted in the previous general election were limited English proficient. With this in mind, APALC deployed poll monitors to 60 sites in Los Angeles County where there are high numbers of Asian Americans registered to vote. Monitors observed at least 6 poll sites at which Korean, Filipino and Latino voters experienced difficulty voting or getting a provisional ballot because the poll site lacked a bilingual poll worker or needed an additional bilingual poll worker. Although poll monitors were able to assist some of these voters, a monitor at one Koreatown site was told that several Korean American voters were turned away earlier in the day because poll workers were unable to communicate with the voters.

In at least 4 instances, poll monitors had to correct poll workers who mistakenly believed that all voters must present ID before voting. At least 3 sites lacked a working version of the new Ink-a-Vote Plus system. While machine failures were not a widespread problem, voters at these sites would not have been alerted if they made an overvote on their ballots (marking more than one choice in the same race), unlike at other sites where poll monitors observed working Ink-a-Vote Plus machines notify several voters who overvoted.

In Orange County, APALC worked with the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA) to monitor 30 sites. Monitors observed long lines of voters at some poll sites, in part due to the length of the ballot in Orange County. One Garden Grove poll site had a line of 20 voters, a poll site in Fountain Valley had 30 voters waiting, and a poll site in Irvine had a line of 66 voters. The long and complex ballot highlighted the need for language assistance, as poll monitors at several poll sites observed bilingual poll workers helping voters navigate the process of voting. However, despite improvements from the June 2006 election, poll monitors still observed a few sites that failed to display translated materials.

“The key now is to work with Los Angeles and Orange County election officials to develop troubleshooting mechanisms that can more quickly respond to problems on election day such as poll worker no-shows and voting machine failures,” said Lee. “It is equally important for election officials to continually work on improving poll worker trainings with regard to language assistance and other federal requirements, and to translate all election materials such as provisional ballot materials.”

Bay Area organizations that participated in the poll monitoring efforts include Asian Law Caucus, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Partnership for Immigrant Leadership and Action. Southern California organizations include OCAPICA, the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Korean Resource Center, Loyola Law School Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Loyola Law School Public Interest Law Foundation, Southwestern Law School Public Interest Law Center, and USC Law School Asian Pacific American Law Student Association.

CAA | Chinese for Affirmative Action/Center for Asian American Advocacy

The mission of CAA is to defend and promote the civil and political rights of Chinese and Asian Americans within the context of, and in the interest of, advancing multiracial democracy in the United States.

Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California

The Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California (APALC) is the nation’s largest legal organization serving the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities. Founded in 1983, APALC is a unique organization that combines traditional legal services with civil rights advocacy and leadership development. The mission of APALC is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Pacific Americans and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.