Why Intimidation at Polls Won’t Surprise Asian American Voters

Unfounded Claims of Election Rigging Will Lead to Increased Risk to Asian Americans Trying to Vote

Amid the dog-whistle cries about the myth of a rigged election and voter fraud running rampant, an alarming call has gone out for people to sign up as election workers to watch voters as they cast their ballots on November 8. This effort will likely result in voter intimidation and voter discrimination on Election Day as we saw happen when members of the Republican National Committee were accused of intimidating minority voters at the polls in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in a consent decree for more than three decades against the committee.

Concerned about these recent efforts, the Election Protection Coalition, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, along with 75 other national and state-based civil rights organizations, sent an open letter to the leadership of the four political parties with presidential candidates in 2016. The letter called on them to condemn these recent appeals to deploy observers against non-existent voter fraud. While election monitoring can be appropriate when conducted in a way that facilitates participation by all eligible voters, these current calls to action, made amidst unproven claims of voter fraud and rigged elections compounded with the xenophobic rhetoric of this election season, are an unconscionable effort to target the most vulnerable of our society to disenfranchisement.

These circumstances are unfortunately all too familiar to Asian American voters, who have faced unfair targeting by those wishing to challenge their right to vote due to no more than the color of their skin, the sound of their name, or the accent in their voice. In essence, the basis for these challenges is nothing more than the racist misperception that Asian American citizens are perpetual foreigners and still do not belong here as Americans.

In April 2005 in Washington State, a private citizen, Martin Ringhofer, challenged the right to vote of more than one thousand people with what he called “foreign-sounding” names. Mr. Ringhofer directed his scrutiny to voters with names that “have no basis in the English language” and “appear to be from outside the United States.” Meanwhile, he eliminated from his challenge the voters with names “that clearly sounded American-born, like John Smith, or Powell,” and ultimately targeted primarily Asian and Hispanic voters.

“We figured if they couldn’t speak good English, they possibly weren’t American citizens.”

The 2004 primary elections in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, saw the intimidation of Asian American voters by supporters of a white incumbent running against a Vietnamese American candidate. These supporters challenged the eligibility to vote of only Asian Americans at the polls, falsely accusing them of not being U.S. citizens. The losing incumbent rationalized his targeting because “We figured if they couldn’t speak good English, they possibly weren’t American citizens.” The Department of Justice found these challenges were racially motivated and prohibited those people from interfering in the general election.

These types of challenges and intimidation are nothing new for Asian American voters. Now they are at an increased risk of being singled out and intimidated during this upcoming election. These calls to action are intended to suppress voter turnout, and participation and they run the risk of creating confusion and disorder on Election Day. We stand ready to ensure that all eligible Asian American voters can cast a ballot free from intimidation and harassment. 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.

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