WASHINGTON – Immigrants and other minorities still struggle to cast their ballots on Election Day,despite strides made to improve polling conditions for them.
Lam Tokit,a proud Democrat from Flushing,N.Y.,struggles to read the Chinese ballot provided at polling locations. The 72-year-old retiree,who became a naturalized citizen 10 years ago, spoke through a Chinese translator.
Lam is not the only person who struggles to vote.
According to a study conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund during the 2008 elections,not all minority voters received the assistance Lam did.
Glenn Magpantay,defense counsel for AALDEF,said many polling locations still do not have adequate interpreters or translated ballots,as required by the Voting Rights Act. The law requires a polling location to provide language assistance if 10,000 people of voting age or 5 percent of the population is not English proficient and if the group has a higher illiteracy rate than the national average.
At a voting rights symposium Sept. 28 hosted by the American Constitution Society,Magpantay said poll workers were the single biggest problem with elections.
Lam said he had trouble telling the Democratic candidates from the Republicans on his ballot. He had to ask poll workers to help him read it.
“It was in Chinese,but the characters were too small,” Lam said. “I used a magnifying lens I carry around with me to see it.”
During the 2008 election,AALDEF surveyed 221 poll sites in locations targeted for language assistance in the Voting Rights Act. Of 16,665 voters surveyed,more than 800,or 4.8 percent, complained about conditions at the polls.
Voters said there were not enough interpreters,and poll workers were rude,hostile or poorly trained. People also reported that,although they were registered to vote,their names were not on the list of voters.
When this happens,poll workers are required to issue provisional ballots. However,voters reported poll workers turned them away without offering the alternative ballot.
Magpantay said that in some polling locations in New York,volunteers required Asian-American voters show proof of citizenship,something not required of all voters. Only a few states require all voters to produce a photo ID,and New York is not among them.
Magpantay acknowledged that lawmakers have amended the 1965 Voting Rights Act several times to solve some problems,but he said others remain.
One way to alleviate problems at the polls is to enforce the laws in place. He said the Justice Department is aware of disparate treatment at the polls but has not done anything to solve the problem. Magpantay said he would like to see DOJ launch an investigation and punish offenders. He would also like to see poll workers receive better training.
The Justice Department did not respond to several requests for comment.
In the meantime,Magpantay said AALDEF continues to file lawsuits on behalf of Asian-Americans. In preparation for the Nov. 2 elections,AALDEF workers are educating voters about their rights at the polls and teaching poll workers about the proper voting process.