equal access to the ballot

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					                                           Election Volunteers, Photo Courtesy of Filipino Advocates for Justice

                                        

        OBSTACLES TO FULL AND EQUAL ACCESS TO THE BALLOT FOR  
                 LIMITED ENGLISH PROFICIENT VOTERS 

    PRELIMINARY FINDINGS FROM REGIONAL ASIAN AMERICAN POLL MONITORING OF 
                     CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS  
                          HELD ON NOVEMBER 2, 2010 



                                 A Report By: 




                              November 9, 2010 
                                  EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

For the California gubernatorial election held on November 2, 2010, the Asian Law Alliance
(ALA) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) monitored elections operations in four Bay Area
Counties. A total of 230 polling sites overall were inspected: 75 polling sites in Alameda
County, 36 polling sites in San Mateo County, 135 polling sites in Santa Clara County, and 84 in
San Francisco County.

Our observations varied quite significantly precinct by precinct. On the whole, officials from the
Registrars of Voters of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties and the Elections Department of
San Francisco were responsive and swift to address the issues we raised to their attention. In
most cases in these Counties, election workers were respectful and provided the much-needed
language assistance to limited English proficient (LEP) voters.

However, there were some issues that arose in all four Counties regarding the availability and
quality of assistance offered to LEP voters in terms of both oral and written language assistance.
Described below are particular incidents that warrant concern. Furthermore, officials from the
Alameda County Registrar of Voters appeared to be overwhelmed with elections operations and
seemed unable to respond in a timely or appropriate manner to numerous matters.

                                             Results
The following is a preliminary analysis and summary of the chief problems we identified for
Asian American and LEP voters.

Obstacles in obtaining adequate written language assistance
   ● Bilingual ballots, voter guides, sample ballots, and provisional ballot envelopes were
       unavailable or incomplete
   ● Bilingual voting materials were not actively displayed and were therefore inaccessible
   ● Polling locations suffered from space constraints that did not leave election workers
       enough room to properly display all the required language materials

Obstacles in obtaining adequate oral language assistance
   ● Bilingual election workers failed to show up in the morning when the polls opened or
       were late
   ● Bilingual election workers were not provided with badges indicating bilingual language
       ability or used English-only badges
   ● Insufficient numbers of bilingual election workers allocated to a polling site to assist LEP
       voters
   ● Lack of signage or inadequate signage indicating bilingual assistance was available




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Voters forced to wait unnecessarily or being turned away due to language barriers
   ● Voters at one polling site endured lengthy waiting times and were even turned away
        because bilingual ballots were not available and the sole bilingual poll worker was
        overwhelmed by the number of LEP voters requiring language assistance

Improper requests for identification before voters were allowed to cast their ballots
   ● Voters were forced to furnish proof of identity before being permitted to vote, which is
      not necessary under California law and is applicable only to a narrow set of first-time
      voters under federal law

                                        Recommendations
These preliminary findings from poll monitoring on the November 2, 2010 elections substantiate
the need for continued attention to the needs of LEP voters. For the most part, straightforward
corrections in logistical coordination and adjustments in training would go far in addressing
these issues.

In compliance with their legal obligations, the Registrars of Voters or Elections Department in
all four Counties should continue to improve their efforts in rendering assistance to limited
English proficient voters by:

1.) Ensuring that translated voting materials are available and accessible at all polling sites
2.) Increasing overall the number of bilingual election workers available on election day
3.) Providing adequate notice to LEP voters that language access is available through signage
and election worker badges
4.) Improving trainings for all election workers on their obligations to LEP voters




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                                      INTRODUCTION

On November 2, 2010, the Asian Law Alliance and Asian Law Caucus deployed more than 200
community volunteers to inspect nearly 300 voting locations across the Bay Area. The poll
monitors were trained in voting rights laws and procedures to ensure that County governments
were carrying out election activities in compliance with federal and state requirements.

Asian American voters, particularly citizens with limited English language skills, have
historically faced various obstacles in voting. While there have been significant advancements in
recent election cycles, our poll monitors observed that even in 2010, limited English proficient
voters who wished to comply with their civic responsibility to vote were faced with unnecessary
challenges.

The overarching purposes of our poll monitoring effort are to identify and remove barriers to
voting in Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties. By doing so, we hope
to maximize the participation of all eligible voters regardless of English fluency.

                                  LEGAL BACKGROUND

Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy. Equal access to voting is of paramount
importance to all Americans and has been enshrined in the Fifteenth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution and the seminal 1965 Voting Rights Act. However, language barriers at the polls
have historically infringed upon the ability of many Asian Americans to fully participate in the
elections process. In 1975, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act to include protections for
limited English proficient voters to ensure that more Americans can perform their civic duty and
vote. In 2006, these protections for language minorities were renewed for 25 years based on
evidence that LEP voters still required language assistance in order to effectively cast their
ballot.

Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires that Counties provide oral and written language
assistance to voters when either 1.) five percent of the citizens of voting age of the State or
County are members of a single language minority and are limited English proficient, or 2.) more
than 10,000 citizens of voting age of the County are members of a single language minority and
are LEP. The illiteracy rate of these populations must also exceed the national average in order
for the protections to be triggered. California’s Elections Code provides for similar protections
when more than three percent of the County population speaks a language other than English.
Under these laws, Chinese and Spanish are protected language groups for Alameda, San
Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties. Vietnamese and Filipino (Tagalog) are
additionally protected in Santa Clara County.



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The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is another key statute related to elections. Among other
things, HAVA created obligations upon Counties to create accessible voting booths for
Americans with disabilities. It also imposed new voter identification requirements for a narrow
set of first-time voters in federal elections.

                                       METHODOLOGY

ALA and ALC poll monitors were comprehensively trained in federal and state voting rights
laws and elections procedures. Poll monitors were paired into teams and assigned three polling
sites to visit on election day beginning at 7am. Poll monitors observed each site for at least 60
minutes.

As the poll monitors identified issues at individual polling sites, they called in their reports to
ALA and ALC. ALA and ALC staff subsequently reported these problems directly to County
officials in order that they may be addressed. Generally speaking, poll monitors were completed
with their assignments by 12pm. ALC additionally submitted by email a written report of the
problems that we identified by 2pm to the Registrars of Voters of Alameda and San Mateo
Counties and the Elections Department of San Francisco.

The polling sites selected for monitoring were based on the total number of Asian registered
voters in each precinct as well as the percentage of the registered voters in each precinct who
were Asian. This was done by performing an Asian surname analysis of the voter lists that were
either provided by or purchased from the Registrar of Voters in each County. The primary focus
of our poll monitoring was legal compliance for Asian language assistance, though we also made
some limited observations related to compliance for Spanish language assistance as well.

There were nine community organizations who made this effort possible: in Alameda County,
Citizens for a Better Community (Fremont), Filipino Advocates for Justice (Union City), and
Family Bridges (Oakland); in San Mateo County, Pilipino Bayanihan Resource Center (Daly
City); in San Francisco City and County, Asian Pacific American Community Center and
Cameron House; and, in Santa Clara County, Vision New America (San Jose) and Filipino
Youth Coalition (San Jose).

In total, there were 215 poll monitors involved in this initiative: 47 in Alameda County, 22 in
San Mateo County; 51 in San Francisco City and County; and 95 in Santa Clara County.

                      RESULTS WITH COUNTY-SPECIFIC DETAIL

Our observations varied quite significantly precinct by precinct. On the whole, officials from the
Registrars of Voters of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties and the Elections Department of


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San Francisco were responsive and swift to address the issues we raised to their attention. In
most cases in these Counties, election workers were respectful and provided the much-needed
language assistance to limited English proficient (LEP) voters.

However, there were some issues that arose in all four Counties regarding the availability and
quality of assistance offered to LEP voters in terms of both oral and written language assistance.
Described below are particular incidents that warrant concern. Furthermore, officials from the
Alameda County Registrar of Voters appeared to be overwhelmed with elections operations and
seemed unable to respond in a timely or appropriate manner to numerous matters.

The following is a preliminary analysis of the chief problems we identified for Asian American
and LEP voters with details regarding incidents in specific Counties.

OBSTACLES TO OBTAINING ADEQUATE WRITTEN LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE
Perhaps the most significant problem facing LEP voters identified through our poll monitoring
efforts was accessing translated voting materials. This included the lack of translated ballots,
voter guides, provisional ballot envelopes, and sample ballots. In other instances, the polling
sites did have translated voting materials but they were not adequately displayed by the election
workers and were therefore inaccessible. Based on our preliminary analysis, this problem most
commonly occurred in Alameda County. It is noteworthy that in this November 2010 election a
few cities in Alameda County were implementing ranked-choice voting for the first time and so a
failure to provide translated ballots may have had higher consequences for LEP voters.

Alameda County
In Alameda County at polling site 822010 (Pioneer School at 32737 Bel Aire Street, Union
City), there were no bilingual ballots available in Chinese or in Spanish. 16% of all registered
voters in this precinct are Chinese and 19% are Latino.

At polling site 337100 (AC Transit at 1600 Franklin Street, Oakland), there were translated
ballots for Part A, but the translated ballots were missing for Parts B and C. 14% of all
registered voters in this precinct are Chinese.

At polling site 334600 (Oakland Fire Station at 1225 Derby Ave, Oakland), there were no
translated provisional ballot envelopes available. 5% of all registered voters in this precinct are
Chinese and 28% are Latino.

At polling site 831100 (St. Paul United Methodist Church at 33350 Peace Terrace, Union City),
bilingual voting materials were not available. When the poll monitors asked the election workers
to display the materials, they became visibly annoyed and requested from the poll monitor proof
of authorization to be present at the polling site. This polling site also did not display signs


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indicating that bilingual written materials were available. 19% of all registered voters in this
precinct are Chinese.

Santa Clara County
At polling site 1763 (Country Hills Apartments at 124 Rancho Dr, San Jose) only Chinese
sample ballots were displayed. When asked, the inspector said that no other languages were
available even though they had more language materials to offer in the previous year and a
bilingual Vietnamese election worker was assigned to the poll site. 13% of all registered
Vietnamese voters in Santa Clara County were assigned to this precinct.

At polling site 3629 (Monta Vista Fire Station at 22620 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino), due to
the small space, election workers were forced to put bilingual materials on a table behind the
official election worker table and thus were not adequately displayed. This precinct serves 9% of
all Chinese voters in Santa Clara County.

Similarly, at polling site 2110 (The Father's House at 3585 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto), poll
monitors had to inform the inspector to display bilingual materials because the inspector did not
know what materials he had to display. However, after the poll monitors informed him, the
inspector did his best to display the required materials despite the small space. This precinct
serves 6% of all registered Chinese voters in Santa Clara County.

At several polling sites across Santa Clara County, election workers did not display bilingual
materials at first. Instead, election workers thought that they could wait for a voter to ask for the
materials before distributing them.

OBSTACLES TO OBTAINING ADEQUATE ORAL LANGUAGE ASSISTANCE
In all four Counties we monitored, there was an across-the-board problem with signage and
identification of bilingual election workers through individual badges. Election workers were
often not provided with badges that indicated bilingual language ability or mistakenly used only
English badges, which left LEP voters unaware of who they could speak to at the polling site to
obtain assistance. In some instances, we observed election workers themselves writing directly
on their own badges that they were bilingual. In Santa Clara County, the only indication that
bilingual poll workers may have been present at a polling site was a small sign with the word
“Welcome” written in several different languages.

Alameda County
In Alameda County at polling site 354300 (Garfield School at 1640 22nd Street, Oakland), there
were no bilingual services signs and no bilingual badges worn by any of the elections workers.
23% of all registered voters in this precinct are Latino and 14% are Chinese.



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San Francisco
In San Francisco at polling site 2123 (Firehouse at 651 26th Avenue), two Chinese bilingual
election workers and one Spanish bilingual election worker were assigned by the County.
However, our poll monitor observed no Chinese bilingual election workers. 27% of all
registered voters in this precinct are Chinese; there were 77 requests for Chinese language
assistance; and 119 registered Chinese voters who were born in a Chinese-speaking country.

San Mateo County
In San Mateo County at polling site 2221 (St. Ambrose Episcopal Church at 900 Edgewater
Boulevard, Foster City), the Chinese bilingual election worker was observed to be not
sufficiently fluent in Chinese. 17% of all registered voters in this precinct are Chinese.

Santa Clara County
At polling site 4410 (Spangler School at 140 N. Abbott Ave, Milpitas), Santa Clara County
assigned one Vietnamese election worker. However, our poll monitor observed that no bilingual
election worker was present at all. 18% of all registered Filipino voters and 5% of all registered
Vietnamese voters in Santa Clara County are in this precinct.

VOTERS FORCED TO WAIT UNNECESSARILY OR BEING TURNED AWAY DUE TO
LANGUAGE BARRIERS
Alameda County
In Alameda County at polling site 335700-02 (Satellite Senior Homes at 540 21st St, Oakland),
the combination of inadequate oral and written language assistance resulted in significant
difficulties for the LEP Chinese American voters. Bilingual ballots were not immediately
available and some voters were unable to use the English only ballot due to language barriers.
The sole bilingual election worker available was overwhelmed by the number of LEP voters who
required language assistance. The poll monitor observed Chinese American voters being turned
away. 12% of all registered voters in this precinct are Chinese.

VOTERS FORCED TO PRODUCE AN OFFICIAL FORM OF IDENTIFICATION BEFORE
CASTING THEIR BALLOTS
San Mateo County
In San Mateo County at polling site 1506 (Fire station at 785 Crestview Drive, Millbrae), all
voters were forced to furnish proof of identity in order to vote. Identification requirements not
required by California law. Under federal law, identification requirements apply to only a very
narrow set of first time voters. However, the poll monitor observed that every voter was
improperly instructed to produce a form of identification. When the poll monitor brought this to
the attention of the poll inspector, he stated that he was trained to ask for identification from all
voters and therefore instructed all the other elections workers to check for proof of identity. This


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potentially raises significant voting rights concerns especially for limited English proficient,
immigrant voters. 18% of all registered voters in this precinct are Chinese.

OTHER PROBLEMS
San Francisco
In San Francisco at polling site 3323 (Spring Valley School at 1451 Jackson Street), the voting
site was physically moved on election day to a new location within the same building that caused
confusion among the LEP voters. Also, the poll monitor observed that some voters were not able
to use private voting booths and had to vote on the cafeteria tables.

At polling site 1115 (Garage of an individual residence located at 581 Bright Street), the entrance
to the polling site was blocked by a car. Voters had difficulty moving in and out of the polling
site, and it was not wheelchair accessible. The poll monitor observed that one voter had a baby
stroller, could not gain access, and was forced to leave the baby stroller outside. The car blocked
the driveway for at least two hours from 7:00am to 9:00am.

San Mateo County
In San Mateo County at polling site 1617 (Bethany Presbyterian Church at 2400 Rosewood
Drive, San Bruno), the poll monitor observed that two pages were missing from the voter roster.
Voters whose names could not be verified were forced to resort to provisional ballots. This
precinct had the 7th largest number of registered voters in the County with 1,654 registered
voters assigned to that polling site.

Santa Clara County
In Santa Clara County polling sites would generally list information regarding the voter hotline
on the Voter Bill of Rights but nowhere else. If the Bill of Rights was hidden or partially
obstructed by other information, no voter would realize this information was available to them.

                                     RECOMMENDATIONS

These preliminary findings from poll monitoring on the November 2, 2010 elections substantiate
the need for continued attention to the needs of LEP voters. For the most part, straightforward
corrections in logistical coordination and adjustments in training would go far in addressing
these issues.

In compliance with their legal obligations, the Registrars of Voters or Elections Department in
all four Counties should continue to improve their efforts in rendering assistance to limited
English proficient voters by:

1.) Ensuring that translated voting materials are available and accessible at all polling sites


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2.) Increasing overall the number of bilingual election workers available on election day
3.) Providing adequate notice to LEP voters that language access is available through signage
and election worker badges
4.) Improving trainings for all election workers on their obligations to LEP voters

                               ORGANIZATIONAL PROFILES

Over the past 33 years, the Asian Law Alliance has helped tens of thousands of people in
obtaining decent housing, justice in the immigration process, and access to basic human and
legal rights. Today, Asian/Pacific Islanders continue to be denied fundamental rights. ALA
continues to keep its doors open for those individuals who are limited in English, who do not
understand the legal system, who cannot afford legal fees and who face the reality of
discrimination.

The Asian Law Caucus was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights Asian
American organization. Recognizing that social, economic, political and racial inequalities
continue to exist in the United States, ALC is committed to the pursuit of equality and justice for
all sectors of our society, with a specific focus directed toward addressing the needs of low-
income, immigrant and underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The Asian Law
Caucus is a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice.

The primary authors for this report are Nick Kuwada, Asian Law Alliance, and Christopher
Punongbayan, Asian Law Caucus. Editorial assistance was provided by Melissa Daar and Dan
Cohen, Full Court Press Communications, and Gary Li and Carlo De La Cruz, Asian Law
Caucus. Invaluable legal and technical assistance was also provided by Eugene Lee and Dan
Ichinose, Asian Pacific American Legal Center – Member of the Asian American Center for
Advancing Justice.




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Description: OBSTACLES TO FULL AND EQUAL ACCESS TO THE BALLOT FOR LIMITED ENGLISH PROFICIENT VOTERS