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Asian American voters see improved language access at the polls on Election Day
CHICAGO, IL — April 4, 2023. Every vote matters. This is especially true during competitive elections like the April 4th run-off in Chicago. Leading up to Election Day, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago and our partner organizations have been hard at work to ensure that this and future elections are accessible to all.
On Election Day, Advancing Justice | Chicago dispatched a team of staff and volunteer poll watchers to 107 precincts and eight vote centers in Chicago. Due to the higher concentration of Asian and limited English proficient (LEP) voters in these precincts, their respective polling places and vote centers are designated as locations with “Limited English Proficient Assistance” for the following languages or language groups: Chinese, South Asian (Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati), Korean, and Tagalog. This designation means that the polling place has translated signs and ballots as well as bilingual poll workers to assist LEP voters.
Poll watchers play a vital role in ensuring fair elections. Advancing Justice | Chicago’s poll watching program aims to ensure that all eligible voters can cast their ballots without interference, with a particular focus on historically-disenfranchised communities like Asian Americans. Our poll watchers are trained to monitor for compliance with language access laws and best practices. For example, they check to see whether polling places have in-language election materials as required by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. Where translated materials appear missing, our poll watchers work collaboratively with election judges to locate the missing materials or otherwise request delivery of the materials through proper channels.
Overall, Advancing Justice | Chicago observed improvements in bilingual election judge staffing and the availability of translated election materials, as compared to our observations from the November 8, 2022 midterm election. These improvements can be traced to ongoing collaboration between the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) and community organizations, which have been meeting nearly every other week for the past three months.
In addition, CBOE worked with Advancing Justice and other community organizations to expand polling places with LEP assistance. After a change in state law required CBOE to reduce voting precincts, there were fewer precincts with LEP assistance during the November 8, 2022 midterm election. Since then, CBOE has worked with community organizations to identify precincts with significant LEP voters. As a result, CBOE increased the number of Chinese precincts by 4, South Asian precincts by 5, Korean precincts by 2, and Tagalog precincts by 10.
Advancing Justice | Chicago noted many positive interactions between poll workers and LEP voters on Election Day. In the 11th ward, for example, our poll watchers observed Chinese-speaking voters getting assistance from bilingual election judges. “It felt really good to see voters engaged and getting the in-language assistance they need and deserve,” said volunteer poll watcher Valerie Chu. The 2023 municipal election marks the first aldermanic election since the 11th ward became the first Asian American majority ward in the city.
Beyond having language assistance at the polls, there is a need, especially among LEP voters and naturalized voters, for outreach and education. “Oftentimes voters who experience language barriers are not aware that they can get assistance at the polls,” said Kimberly Leung, Voting Rights Legal Fellow at Advancing Justice | Chicago. “That is why outreach and education is so important.” The Chicago Board of Elections has full-time bilingual staff who conduct language-specific outreach and community education in the lead up to each election. This in-house capacity is critical to effectively implementing Section 203.
Advancing Justice | Chicago would like to thank HANA Center, South Asian American Policy and Research Institute, Indo-American Center, Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment, Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, and the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for their assistance in ensuring voter accessibility for all. We look forward to continued collaboration with CBOE.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago builds power through collective advocacy and organizing to achieve racial equity. Learn more at advancingjustice-chicago.org.