By Ed Diokno
The 2016 election season is coming down to the wire on both national and local elections. With so much at stake, 245 AAPI candidates running for office and driven by the most contentious presidential campaign in recent memory, the effort to push AAPI voters to register and to the polls has been extensive.
It’s no secret that in preparation for this election has included many attempts to suppress voters of color—be it North Carolina’s alleged illegal cancellation of voter registrations or the threat of voter intimidation tactics by White supremacists in states such as Pennsylania. Now, officials in historically Republican states are allegedly using harmful—and sometimes illegal—tactics to keep the voters of color from swinging the states blue, reports NBC News.
Responding to a wave of new state voter identification and proof of citizenship laws, the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund (AALDEF) will monitor more than 100 poll sites to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Help America Vote Act.
The 42-year old nonpartisan organization will dispatch more than 800 attorneys, law students, and community volunteers to polling places in 14 states and Washington, DC to document voting problems in the 2016 elections.
Attorneys will check whether Asian-language voting assistance has been provided (such as ballots, interpreters, signs and voting materials) and whether provisional ballots are offered to voters whose names are not in voter lists. Attorneys will report on whether voter identification requirements are implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.
Vattamala cited a 2016 AALDEF case in which a Texas election law was struck down under the Voting Rights Act because it improperly restricted access to interpreters, Vattamala said he received a complaint this week from an Asian American voter improperly denied language assistance during early voting in Texas.
Multilingual volunteers will be at poll sites to take complaints from voters about election irregularities and other barriers to voting. Voters can also report Election Day problems to AALDEF’s toll-free hotline at 800-966-5946, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AALDEF is partnering with 121 national and local groups, law firms, and student associations to mobilize volunteers for Election Day.
New voting restrictions in 14 states have had a significant impact on minority voters. Courts have successfully struck down some of these regulations, but the threat to equal access to the ballot box remains. Given that this year’s election will be the first without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1964, it’s essential that voters who have historically faced discrimination at the polls can fulfill their civic duty with in-language assistance or help at the polls and without fear of intimidation.
“As we head into to the first presidential election since 1965 without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, the 888-API-VOTE hotline is even more critical to protect and serve our electorate,” said Christine Chen, executive director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote).
“This election hotline not only provides AAPI voters essential in-language assistance, but it also ensures that all voters, regardless of proficiency in English, will have equitable access to the ballot box,” said Chen.
Voting problems are occurring in states like Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and Ohio. In Texas, specifically, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund won a court case last week (Oct. 28) ordering Bexar County election officials “to immediately remove all illegal voter ID signs that contained false information,” NBC News reports. In addition, the failure for officials to provide bilingual voting information on their websites violates the Voting Rights Act.
Efforts to ensure voter intimidation or harassment isn’t allowed is severely hampered this year because of a 2013 decision by the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court that severely gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As a result of that decision, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Justice Department will send observers only to jurisdictions where it already has court approval, according to the New York Times. That means only seven counties or jurisdictions in Alaska, California, Louisiana and New York will have Department of Justice observers.
“We do not want to be in the position we’re in,” Vanita Gupta, the top civil rights official at the DOJ, said in an interview. “There’s no doubt that we’re going to be spread thinner,” she added, “but our hope and our intention is that we are going to have a very robust monitoring program” on Election Day.
Hence, the need for independent observers and AAPI civil rights organizations are doing their best to step up to the plate.
“Ensuring that all voters know their rights at the polls is critical to their participation this November,” said Mee Moua, executive director and president of Advancing Justice | AAJC. 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.”
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. pointed out in a New York Times oped that a Trump supporter recently told The Boston Globe that he would racially profile “Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American.” And he wasn’t shy about what he’d do next: “I’m going to go right up behind them,” he said, and “make them a little bit nervous.”
“We’re witnessing merely the latest round of efforts to delegitimize and exclude minority and immigrant voters with baseless allegations of fraud. But our commitment to universal suffrage demands that every eligible voter who wants to vote has the chance, free from intimidation and harassment,” wrote Ho.
“In this election, unnecessary barriers to the ballot and calls to racially profile voters are the real threats. Voter fraud is not.”