Asian Americans voters face discrimination: report

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Asian American voters fear the discrimination some faced at polling stations in 2006 could resurface as they cast ballots in November’s presidential election, a civil rights group said on Thursday.

A voters casts their ballot in a voting booth in Dover, New Hampshire January 8, 2008, the day of the New Hampshire primary. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Laws that enable Asian Americans from countries including China, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines to get language and other kinds of assistance with voting were often flouted at the 2006 mid-term congressional elections, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The group cited examples of Asian Americans being asked to provide more identification than other citizens, in contravention of federal law. Those not on voter rolls but still eligible to vote were often not given provisional ballots to complete, it said in a report.

Under the landmark Voting Rights Act and a subsequent act, election officials in districts with more than 10,000 registered Asian Americans, or ones where their voting population exceeds 5 percent of a district’s total, are mandated to provide certain help.

The provisions also apply in areas where there are low levels of literacy and people speak an Asian language, and mandate help such as translators and translated ballots and registration forms.

“Our major concern is that there is going to be a large number of newly registered Asian voters (in 2008) and many of the problems we have observed in 2006 will not have been fixed,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of the fund.

She said that on polling day in 2006 there were many examples of “racist and intimidatory” remarks to Asian Americans such as: “‘How come you don’t speak English?’, ‘Why don’t you go back to your home country?’ and ‘You’re turning this country into a dump.’”

The group said it registered 200 complaints during monitoring of 172 polling sites and a multilingual survey of over 4,700 Asian American voters in nine states.

The Asian American community is predominantly immigrant and some 670,000 are covered under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The majority live in Los Angeles or elsewhere in California. The next largest group lives in New York, followed by Hawaii, Houston and Chicago, Fung said.

Mandarin or other Chinese dialects are the largest language group, Fung said.

Exit polls taken in nine states in 2006 showed that four out of five Asian Americans voted for the Democratic Party but Fung said she did not know if the problems some encountered were an attempt to disenfranchise them for political reasons.

“Asian Americans, even though they are citizens, are still perceived as foreigners. As part of an anti-immigrant sentiment that seems to be on the rise there is hostility and some sense that these people are newcomers and don’t belong,” she said.

The economy and jobs were the most important issues for Asian Americans, followed by health care, the war in Iraq and education, she said, citing a survey. Many Asian Americans were also concerned about long waits to process paperwork needed to bring family members to the United States, she said.

Editing by David Wiessler