National Asian Language Election Protection Hotline will assist voters on Election Day 2014
WASHINGTON – Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC today released a new report highlighting how voters are easily denied their rights under Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The federal law says voters who have trouble reading and/or writing English can bring someone of their choice to help them in the voting booth. Many states fail to train poll workers about the law, create restrictions on who voters can choose for language assistance and allow election officials unnecessary discretion over what the law allows.
“Every eligible voter in the United States should be able to cast a ballot and participate in our democracy,” said Mee Moua, executive director and president of Advancing Justice | AAJC. “Ensuring that all voters know their rights at the polls is critical to their participation this November. As Asian Americans continue to grow in population, and turn out to vote, we must do everything we can to support their participation and make visible their political impact.”
Roughly one in two Asian American adults (44 percent) have difficulty speaking English. A 2012 post-election survey of 6, 609 Asian Americans found that turnout among those who had difficulty speaking English was 9 percent lower than those who did not. Overall, in 2012, 8 percent of Asian Americans who have difficulty speaking English cited language barriers as a reason for not voting.
Congress found a correlation between language barriers and low voter participation, and passed Section 208 of the VRA to ensure that language does not stand in the way of casting a ballot.
The Advancing Justice | AAJC report highlights how voters can be denied their rights under Section 208, due to discrepancies in how each state’s law is written, enacted and applied.
“Though the law applies nationwide, poll workers are unaware of Section 208’s right to a helper of the voter’s choice,” said Terry Ao Minnis, Advancing Justice | AAJC’s director of voting and the census and an author of the report. “In addition, some states place time limits on voting, create restrictions on who the voter can choose for language assistance, or allow election officers unnecessary discretion over what the law allows. All of this has led to voting rights violations and these discrepancies must be fixed.”
Advancing Justice | AAJC recommends that all states offer poll worker training on Section 208 and that election officials provide pre-election notice about the right to request language assistance. This could mean pre-election notices on official election websites, notice by mail or signage at polling stations. In addition, the report suggests the Department of Justice issue guidance on how states can best implement the section.
The report, “The Right to Assistance of Your Choice at the Polls: How Section 208 Should Work To Protect Our Vote and Our Democracy,” was written by Minnis, Advancing Justice | AAJC Vice President of Programs and Policy Carl Hum and former Advancing Justice | AAJC Senior Staff Attorney Jeanette Lee. The law firm Hogan Lovells provided pro bono support.
On Election Day, November 4, if voters have problems at the polls, they should call 1-888-API-VOTE. This Asian-language Election Protection hotline, run by Advancing Justice | AAJC and partner Asian Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), will offer voters assistance from 7 a.m. until midnight EST on Election Day in Bengali/Bangla, Cantonese, Hindi/Urdu, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, Vietnamese, as well as respond to possible voter discrimination concerns.
“Voters can call the hotline to get answers about voting, to find a polling place or to learn about any ID requirements. Our volunteers can also help voters with language access concerns, but also with any voter discrimination problems they might face,” said Christine Chen, executive director of APIAVote.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC is a national nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. working to fight for civil and human rights and empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to participate in our democracy. Advancing Justice – AAJC is part of a national affiliation that also includes Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (San Francisco), Advancing Justice – Chicago and Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.