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Queens Chronicle

Asian Americans Face Barriers At Seven Local Polling Stations

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Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2005 12:00 am

Asian-American voters encountered impatient poll workers, missing Chinese- and Korean-language ballots, and improper requests for identification at several local polling stations, according to a preliminary survey released by a non-profit advocacy group.

The Asian American Legal Defense Fund reported possible violations of the federal elections laws at eight polling stations in Queens, based on a preliminary survey of accounts provided by volunteer election monitors. These included no Korean-language voting signs at PS 11 in Woodside, missing Chinese and Korean interpreters at Flushing High School and rude behavior by poll workers at JHS 189 in Flushing.

“The preliminary reports show that Asian Americans needed to overcome several obstacles to exercise their right to vote,” Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney for the legal defense fund, said in a statement. “As in the previous elections, poll workers were hostile and some did not understand their obligations under federal laws. This is unacceptable.”

Under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions with sizeable Asian language populations must ensure the availability of interpreters and voter assistance and voters’ rights materials translated in those languages on Election Day.

Queens is also required Section 203 to staff polling sites with Chinese- and Korean-language interpreters. Section 2003, which was added to the original law in 1975, is set to expire in 2007.

Volunteer poll monitors for the legal defense fund and other advocacy groups reported voting rights violations on Election Day at three sites in Flushing, two in Jackson Heights, and one each in Woodside, Sunnyside and East Elmhurst.

At Flushing High School, only two Chinese interpreters and two Korean interpreters were on duty, although four of each had been assigned to the poll site. At four of the five election district tables, Chinese- or Korean-language affidavit ballots were missing. Multilingual instruction cards for affidavit ballots and voting machines were entirely missing from all five election district tables.

At Flushing’s JHS 189, a poll worker rushed one Chinese-American voter to finish voting even though she had not finished reading the instructions. The poll worker stopped when a supervisor arrived. Another voter reported that a poll worker at the site was very rude and tried to belittle her.

At the Rosenthal Senior Center in Flushing, at least one Asian-American voter was turned away and misdirected to PS 114, another poll site miles away in Far Rockaway.

At PS 69 in Jackson Heights, a Bangladeshi-American voter could not find his name in the voter rolls even though he had voted at the same site in 1996, and registered again after poll workers could not find his name during the 2005 primaries and was asked to vote by affidavit ballot. He voted again this year by affidavit ballot. Another Bangladeshi American was asked to provide I.D. even though he had voted before.

At South Ridge Co-ops in Jackson Heights, a Spanish interpreter was available but poll workers did not seek the interpreter’s assistance when a voter needed it.

At PS 11 in Woodside, voting instruction signs were not posted in Korean.

At PS 150 in Sunnyside, a variety of voting materials were not available in Korean or Chinese.

At PS 148 in East Elmhurst, one election district voting table had bilingual materials stacked in a pile in unopened packages.

A coalition of Asian-American advocacy groups including the legal defense fund monitored Tuesday’s elections at approximately 80 poll sites in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Several of the more egregious violations cited in the report occurred at the Mott Street Senior Center, in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown. Only two of the four Chinese interpreters assigned to the polling station there were present by 5:20 p.m.

For the majority of the time, only one Chinese interpreter was on duty. The “Vote Here” sign at the site’s entrance was only posted in English and Spanish, and only one Chinese-language sample ballot was available for seven voting machines.

Anyone with complaints about discriminatory voting practices can call the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice at 800-253-3931.

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