What We Learned this Year from Our Election Protection Hotline

Asian Americans are still seeing unnecessary obstacles at the polls

Voting can be intimidating, even for native English speakers. It’s even more difficult for citizens whose first language isn’t English.

That’s where Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act comes in. It allows voters needing assistance for any host of reasons—including disability, blindness, inability to read or write, or low English proficiency — can bring someone along to help in the voting booth. But it’s not always enforced.

That’s one of the reasons Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) partnered once again to support Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) voters through our national election protection hotline, 1–888-API-VOTE. The hotline provides bilingual assistance to voters in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog on Election Day.

“The National Asian Language Election Protection Hotline helps voters know their rights at the polls,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of Advancing Justice | AAJC. “Reducing language barriers is extremely important for Asian Americans to turn out the vote because roughly one in two Asian American adults have difficulty speaking English.”

Advancing Justice | AAJC has been educating our community about Section 208. But until states do their job in enforcing Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act by adequately training poll workers, Advancing Justice | AAJC and APIAVote will continue to run the hotline to make sure language barriers don’t come between a voter and the voting booth.

On Election Day 2015, calls came in from across the country, asking for Election Day information, including the location of polling places, voter registration information, voter ID requirements, and general voting procedures. Notably, many callers wanted information on the election itself, such as what races are taking place and who or what is on the ballot.

“Many voters expressed a desire to vote, but did not have access to translated, in-language materials about specific races or what and who was on the ballot,” said Christine Chen, executive director of APIAVote. “This emphasizes the critical need of in-language ballots and other election information for our communities, to give them the access they deserve to the political process.”

The influx of calls throughout the last week and on Election Day highlights the importance of voter outreach and mobilization effort to the AANHPI communities. As we head into the 2016 elections, we must ensure that all AANHPI voters feel a part of the political process, and continue to provide this critical in-language assistance for our communities.

Fighting for civil rights for all and working to empower #AAPIs to participate in our democracy. Follow: @johncyangdc @tao_minnis @meganessaheb

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