Asian Americans say they faced voting problems

Asian American voters in Georgia had a range of problems during the 2012 presidential election, including being improperly asked to show proof of citizenship at the polls, not having access to translators or interpreters when reviewing ballots, and having their names misspelled on voter rolls.

That’s according to poll data released last week by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a nonprofit organization that surveyed more than 9,000 Asians at polling locations in 14 states — including Georgia, where 361 voters were interviewed in Suwanee, Norcross, Duluth and Doraville.

Documenting the problems is especially significant right now because the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week related to a challenge to the pre-clearance section of the Voting Rights Act. That section requires that some states and counties, mostly in the South, have changes in their voting law approved by the U.S. Department of Justice before they are implemented.

Shelby County in Alabama has challenged the mandate, known as Section 5 , which covers the entire state of Georgia. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has filed a legal brief in support of Shelby County.

Glenn Magpantay, an attorney and director of the non-profit’s Democracy Program, said the overall number of problems experienced by Asians in the four Georgia cities was relatively small, but significant all the same.

For example, voters should not be asked to produce proof of citizenship on Election Day because they already did that during the registration process, he said.

“Much of the talk about the Voting Rights Act has been about the African-American and Latino communities. None of it has been discussed with regard to the Asian community and the impact overturning it would have on that emerging demographic,” Magpantay said. “We think it’s a powerful tool to protect those rights in the future.”

Magpantay acknowledged that Georgia isn’t mandated by law to provide translators on Election Day, but said his organization has for years requested that service to make voting “accessible to all of Georgia’s voters.”

“The growth of the Asian American population is undeniable,” he said. “We are drafting a complaint letter to officials in Gwinnett County and Duluth. We’re going to work with legislators to fix some of those problems.”

Magpantay said the letters will be sent later this week, and there were no other complaints lodged against Gwinnett officials after the 2012 election. Kristi Royston, deputy director of Gwinnett County Elections, said a complaint from the organization will be reviewed by the agency’s director, Lynn Ledford, and the elections board to determine if any action is warranted.

The poll data also shows Asian American voters leaned heavily toward the Democratic Party in 2012, overwhelmingly voting for Barack Obama.

And that’s a notable shift, said Kim Reimann, a political science professor and director of the Asian Studies Center at Georgia State University. Nationally, she said, Asian Americans have been more closely associated with the Republican Party.

“That could be because there were a lot of younger voters and a lot of first-time voters,” Reimann said. “I think that shows efforts in the communities to get out the vote were very successful.”

The presidential candidates’ stances on immigration reform also could have played a role. Seventy percent of those who voted for Obama in the Georgia poll favored immigration reform with a path to citizenship, while 47 percent of those who voted for Romney said the same.

Wooi Yin, a Cobb County resident who volunteered to poll Asians in Doraville, said she distributed the polling forms to people in Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese and English. Asian Indians were the other major demographic surveyed in the poll.

Yin said many of the people she interviewed switched from Republican to Democrat in 2012 because of the immigration issue.

“Most Asians … know someone who is undocumented, so immigration policy plays a very big role in their daily lives,” Yin said. “They are for comprehensive immigration. … And the Republicans are not reaching out to them.”

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