Upholding the Right to Vote

15th anniversary of election reform law holds significance for Asian American voters

Yesterday we marked the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), the expansive and sweeping election reform law passed in the wake of the presidential election debacle of 2000. As Asian Americans, we should celebrate what HAVA has accomplished for the community while at the same time be mindful of how more must be done to continue the promise of HAVA.

When enacted, HAVA aimed to make extensive improvements to our nation’s election infrastructure and provided federal funding to ensure improvements were made across the states. HAVA included such provisions as the establishment of nationwide election standards, provisional balloting, statewide voter registration lists, and authorization of funding to upgrade voting technology and improve accessibility for voters with disabilities. HAVA also established the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to address serious problems with our elections infrastructure that can depress voter participation and turnout, such as voting machines, outdated voter registration procedures, and accessibility.

As the fastest growing group in America, Asian Americans have experienced numerous opportunities and challenges to political participation and civic engagement of our communities. In the wake of the continuing explosive growth and the current political climate, these new Americans often emigrate from countries with very different government systems and traditions of civic engagement. Many face language as well as cultural barriers. They often lack an adequate understanding of the history and current conditions of race relations in the United States, or of its economic development and divides. Yet they increasingly recognize that there is both a right and responsibility to participate in our democratic system and engage in civic institutions. Too often excluded from the decision making of government entities at the national, state and local levels, Asian Americans recognize that we have a significant stake in participating in the public dialogue concerning resource allocation decisions, regulations, investments in schools, economic redevelopment, and must be politically engaged. HAVA, especially the EAC, continues to help Asian Americans have their voices heard.

The EAC has been especially important for Asian Americans through its provision of language access tools that help voters experiencing a language barrier. Nearly a third of Asian Americans have some difficulty communicating in English. Thus, in-language materials are critical in ensuring our community members can engage in the democratic process of voting. The EAC has developed in-language glossaries of election terminology, voter’s guides to federal elections, and the National Mail Voter Registration Form. The EAC glossaries are available in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese and contain almost 2,000 terms and phrases used in the administration of elections. The EAC’s voter’s guide, designed to help voters successfully navigate the federal elections process, is available in eleven languages: Cherokee, Chinese, Dakota, English, Japanese, Korean, Navajo, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Yupik. Finally, the EAC has translated the National Mail Voter Registration form into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

In the same spirit of recognizing the importance of language support for Asian American voters, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC has several in-language resources available for the upcoming elections. Factsheets are available in Bengali (বাংলা), Khmer (ខ្មែរ), Chinese — Simplified (中文 (简)),Korean (한국어), Chinese — Traditional (中文 (繁)), Tagalog, Hindi (हिंदी), Thai, Japanese (日本語), and Vietnamese (tiếng Việt) that explain language minority voter’s rights under Sections 203 (language assistance provision) and 208 (right to assistance of your choice) of the Voting Rights Act.

If more in-language assistance is needed, Advancing Justice | AAJC, along with our partner APIAVote, are ready to ensure that all eligible Asian American voters can cast a ballot this election through its in-language hotline. Voters can call 888-API-VOTE (888–274–8683) if they have questions or need help with voting to receive assistance in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi, and Bengali.

States with large and fast-growing AAPI communities will have important elections in a little over a week. For example, more than 652,000 AAPIs call Virginia home and more than half are eligible to vote; another 940,000 plus AAPIs call New Jersey home and nearly half are eligible to vote. In both cases, more than three-quarters of the AAPIs in each state speak a language other than English at home. While the 2016 elections saw record gains in AAPI voter participation with 1.14 million new Asian American voters, the gap between those eligible to vote and those who actually vote remains exceedingly low, with only about half participating in the 2016 presidential election.

Recognizing that some local elections were won by only 300 votes, we hope our resources help demystify the voting process and encourage more AAPIs to vote and have their voices heard.