Election 2016: Increased Accessibility Drives Asian Americans to Polls

Brandon Lee
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago
773-271-0899 x200


However, inconsistencies threaten future participation if not corrected

Asian American voters turned out in large numbers for the March 15 Illinois Primary Election, as evidenced by longer lines at poll sites, and increased need for bilingual election judges. For the first time, select polling places in Chicago and Suburban Cook County offered Korean language sample ballots in addition to those districts with federally mandated Chinese, Hindi, Gujarati, and Urdu materials.

“We are excited that Korean sample ballots are being piloted to increase accessibility to Korean American voters,” said Andrew Kang, Legal Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. “We have seen the positive effects translated ballots have had in increasing Chinese American voter turnout over the years.”

Chinese language ballots and voter assistance have been available since 2002. An open seat and a Chinese American candidate, Theresa Mah, running for State Representative in the 2nd District also drove interest amongst Asian American voters. Problems reported at the polls have been related to electioneering and unexpected demand for Chinese language assistance. The 2nd District has the second highest percentage of Asian Americans who are voting age at 23.5%.  

Advancing Justice | Chicago poll monitors identified also identified issues at polling sites across Chicago on Election Day, including:

  • Increased need for bilingual Election Judges. Current judges were translating for 4-5 voters at a time, and at least one person left site before voting.
  • At least two 17-year-old voters who will soon turn 18 were turned away from their polling site. In Illinois, 17-year-olds are allowed to vote in a Primary Election if they will turn 18 before the General Election.
  • Partisan electioneering was taking place within polling sites.  

“Better training and vetting of Election Judges would alleviate many of these issues,” said Andy Kang, Legal Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. “ We trust that the Chicago and Cook County Boards of Election will make the necessary changes before the general election on November 8.”

All Election Day incidents observed by Advancing Justice | Chicago poll monitors have been reported to the Chicago and Cook County Boards of Election, and will be the basis for recommendations issued in advance of the November 2016 general election.

Advancing Justice | Chicago runs the largest non-governmental, non-partisan poll monitoring effort in Illinois. Today, Advancing Justice | Chicago observed 90 precincts for language accessibility and election law compliance.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago is the leading pan-Asian, multi-issue organization in the Midwest dedicated to empowering the Asian American community through advocacy by utilizing education, research, and coalition-building. Established in 1992, Advancing Justice | Chicago (formerly the Asian American Institute) was founded by a group of visionary Chicago community activists, academicians, and business leaders in response to the growing need to build a pan-Asian policy agenda among Chicago’s diverse Asian American communities. Advancing Justice | Chicago projects a united voice on the most pressing issues of concern to Asian Americans in metropolitan Chicago.

Advancing Justice | Chicago is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. It is a member of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice national affiliation, with partner affiliates in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta.