Access to Vote? Depends on Where You Live

August 5, 2005

They reviewed 466 polling stations and found that compliance with the Voting Rights Act, Section 203 (which requires polling places to provide language assistance) was uneven. Among the complaints:

* Poll workers were frequently reluctant to help, were unaware of how to help, or were suspicious of bilingual poll workers and LEP voters. In Los Angeles County,CA, a poll worker sent an Asian American voter to the back of the line for "causing too much trouble" due to the voter's limited English proficiency.

* About 46 percent of the polling sites monitored had multilingual materials but these were inaccessible to those who needed them. In 96 polling stations, there were no instructions in other languages on how to use the voting machines, the sample ballots or even directional signs.

* Many poll workers did not understand why multilingual materials were necessary. In Cook County, IL, one election judge who could not understand a voter said that the voter should learn to speak English.

* In many of the polling sites, there were no signs indicating the availability of interpreters and bilingual poll workers were not identified as such. About 50 percent of the poll workers in Chicago, Cook County, IL, and 62 percent of the bilingual poll workers in King County, WA, did not wear badges indicating their language ability.

It sounds like most places are making an effort to provide language assistance though. I was glad to read that in Harris County, TX (where I'm from), officials made efforts to provide information in Vietnamese to the sizable population there, and even located one of the polling places inside a known community spot.

Section 3 expires in 2007 and NAPALC wants to make sure it will be re-authorized by Congress.

What I found interesting, which is kind of glossed over quickly by the report, is who people voted for. NAPALC conducted their own exit polls and found that Asian Americans in Chicago overwhelmingly voted for Kerry, while those in San Diego mostly went for Bush. In Southern California more than 50% of Cambodians and Vietnamese voted for Bush. Twenty-two percent of Chinese Americans in the Chicago area who were surveyed were first time voters, and of those, 79% voted for Kerry.

Click here for a copy of the report.

Contributor: 

Melissa Hung

Founding Editor

Melissa Hung is the founding editor of Hyphen. She was the editor in chief for the magazine's first five years and went on to serve in many other leadership roles on the staff and board for more than a decade. She is a writer and freelance journalist. Her essays and reported stories have appeared in NPR, Vogue, Pacific Standard, Longreads, and Catapult, among others. A native Texan, she lives in California. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.