Election Judges in Schaumburg Township Make Discriminatory Comments in Polling Sites

Election Judges in Schaumburg Township Make Discriminatory Comments in Polling Sites

During the primary elections on March 18, 2014, Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Chicago (Advancing Justice—Chicago), Common Cause Illinois, and Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. partnered to conduct Election Protection, non-partisan poll watching throughout Chicago and the suburbs. In the late morning in Schaumburg Township, volunteer poll watchers reported two separate instances of election judges, while serving in the polling place, openly making disparaging comments about limited English proficient voters. These two separate incidents, one involving Democrat-appointed election judges and the other involving Republican-appointed election judges, were promptly reported shortly after noon to the Cook County Clerk’s Office, with the request that these specific judges be immediately removed from the polling places.

The federal Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination against voters, including on the basis of race, limited English proficiency, or disability. The law requires translated election materials in Spanish, Chinese, and Hindi in Chicago and suburban Cook County.

The Cook County Clerk’s Office sent officials to supervise both locations but did not remove the election judges. Later that evening, volunteer poll watchers reported to Advancing Justice—Chicago that one of the election judges in question was observed treating South Asian voters rudely when struggling to identify their names in the poll book.

“We’re disappointed that the Cook County Clerk’s Office refused to remove these election judges from the polling places after being notified of their comments, which were completely inappropriate for a polling place,” said Tuyet Le, executive director of Advancing Justice-Chicago. “Such comments indicate an election judge’s fundamental disagreement with an essential function of their job. If such comments can be made without significant and immediate consequences, then it poses real risk to voters, and could even discourage other election judges from fully performing their duties with respect to language assistance.”

“Poll watchers observed similar inappropriate comments made during the 2012 Illinois primary, and the Cook County Clerk’s Office agreed that such behavior will not be tolerated by election judges,” said Ami Gandhi, executive director of the South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI). “After the 2012 incident, SAAPRI and Advancing Justice—Chicago recommended improvements for election judge training, and a process to replace problematic judges immediately, so that all election judges are providing legally-required language assistance to voters. When judges who make discriminatory comments are not replaced immediately, this opens the door to further infringement of voting rights.”

“Whether it’s comments about Asian Americans, Latinos, immigrants, African Americans or anybody else, we cannot tolerate comments being made inside a polling place that access to voting should be limited because of a person’s race, language spoken, education, literacy level, or disability,” said Andy Kang, legal director of Advancing Justice—Chicago.

The policy of removing election judges immediately for discriminatory comments is supported by: Advancing Justice-Chicago, SAAPRI, Common Cause Illinois, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Collectively, all of these organizations look forward to working with the Cook County Clerk’s Office to improve the process in advance of the November election.