Barriers to Voting: Language and Resources

Language as a Barrier

Language was and continues to be a common barrier to voting for many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

English-only ballots and the secret ballot A method of voting that ensures that all votes are cast in secret, so that the voter is not influenced by any other individual, and at the time of voting no one else knows who the voter chose can keep non-English speakers from voting. Many states now have multi-language ballots and/or allow interpreters to help non-English speakers to vote.

However, since the US Supreme Court found Section 4b of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional in 2013, several states have put into place Voter ID laws that once again heavily discriminate against immigrants, the poor, and non-English speakers.

The API vote for a long time was not being recognized. We still struggle today. A lot of the political parties don't even have a database on API community. It’s horrible how a lot of these lawmakers look at the Asian voting bank and never take their time or the energy, or put resources to break them down. So there’s not an actual outreach that's happening.”
Jigme Ugen, Executive Vice President of SEIU Healthcare MN in an interview for Your Vote Your Voice

Refugees: Language and Education Barriers

AAPI communities established in the U.S. when seeking asylum following the Vietnam War face different voting challenges.

Refugees were given easier access to voting rights and citizenship compared to other immigrants. Even though many of them may have participated in voting activities for many years, they may not have access to voter education.

English proficiency may be very limited, and these communities are often overlooked by political campaigns and voter education. They may receive little or no information about issues that may be important to them, such as laws regarding voter ID or proposals for English-only ballots.

I do think it's about disenfranchising communities of color and any structural barriers that they can put into place to do that, and that would be one of the ways to do it is to put voting restrictions in place. And I think it does have a direct effect on race and people not having access to the ballot box.
Luchelle Stevens, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Public Affairs at SEIU Healthcare MN in an interview for Your Vote Your Voice

Neglected at the Ballot Box

Political candidates may assume that non-English speakers are ineligible voters and so campaign resources and time are not given to these communities.

Older and new immigrant AAPI communities are often neglected and excluded from political education. Lack of clear directions in other languages may lead to non-English speakers to end up at the wrong voting place or to fill in ballots incorrectly due to the lack of an interpreter.

Phone banking at Asian American Organizing Project

As a professional who worked on campaigns, some of the barriers that I’ve seen within the Asian American community is the lack of outreach and language skills.
Yer Yang, Policy Aide for Minneapolis City Councilmember Blong Yang, in an interview for Your Vote Your Voice