The Asian American Vote 2016: A Report by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
This piece was published in the 28th print volume of the Asian American Policy Review. The report is adapted from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) on Asian American voting, published in 2017. The full report is available on AALDEF’s website.
On November 8, 2016, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) conducted a nonpartisan, multilingual exit poll of Asian American voters. Over 800 attorneys, law students, and community volunteers administered the survey in 14 states – California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia – and Washington, D.C.
AALDEF’s exit poll, the largest survey of its kind in the nation, surveyed 13,846 Asian American voters at 93 poll sites in 55 cities. The exit poll was conducted in English and 11 Asian languages. AALDEF has conducted exit polls in every major election since 1988.
Multilingual exit polls provide a more comprehensive portrait of Asian American voters than surveys done only in English. AALDEF’s exit poll reveals details about the Asian American community, including voter preferences on candidates, political parties, issues, and language needs.
Profile of Respondents
The five largest Asian ethnic groups polled in 2016 were Chinese (35%), South Asian (29%), Korean (10%), Southeast Asian (10%), and Filipino (7%). South Asians include Asian Indians, Bangladeshis, Indo-Caribbeans, and Pakistanis. Southeast Asians include Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Thais. Three out of four (76%) of respondents were foreign-born. One-third (32%) described themselves as limited English proficient and 20% had no formal education in the U.S. Almost one-third (30%) were first-time voters in the November 2016 General Election.
In the presidential race, 79% of Asian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton and 18% voted for Donald Trump. The majority (59%) of Asian Americans was enrolled in the Democratic Party, 12% were enrolled in the Republican Party, and 27% were not enrolled in any political party.
Crossover voting favored Clinton over Trump. More Asian American Republicans crossed party lines to vote for Clinton compared to Asian American Democrats voting for Trump (20% to 5%). Of those not enrolled in a political party, the majority favored Clinton over Trump by more than a 3 to 1 margin (73% to 22%).
Common Political Interests
Asian Americans are a diverse community, including many who are foreign-born and speak different Asian languages and dialects. In the political arena, however, they share common political interests, even across ethnic lines. In the 2016 presidential election, Asian Americans voted as a bloc for the same candidates and identified common reasons for their vote.
Respondents identified Economy/Jobs (22%), Immigration/Refugees (16%), Health Care (16%), and Education (15%) as the top issues that influenced their vote for President.
Asian Americans showed broad support for stricter gun control laws across multiple categories, including party enrollment. More than three of four Asian Americans (78%) showed strong support for stricter gun control laws. Half of Asian Americans (50%) said they do not believe that the police treat racial and ethnic groups equally. Two of three Asian Americans (65%) showed support for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Two of three Asian Americans (65%) showed support for laws to protect gay, lesbian, and transgender (LGBTQ) people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Bilingual ballots and language assistance are necessary to preserve access to the vote. Thirty-two percent (32%) of Asian Americans polled were limited English proficient. Twenty-four percent (24%) identified English as their native language. Seven percent (7%) of voters said they had difficulty voting because no assistance was available in their native language and 15% said they either used the interpreters or translated materials provided at the site or brought their own.
AALDEF received 281 complaints of voting problems. Asian American voters were unlawfully required to provide identification to vote, mistreated by hostile or poorly trained poll workers, were denied Asian-language assistance, and found that their names were missing from or misspelled in voter rolls. American Muslim voters were specifically targeted by poll workers with requests for additional identification at poll sites in Michigan and New York.
In the November 8, 2016 elections, AALDEF surveyed 13,846 Asian American voters at 93 poll sites in 55 cities across 14 states–California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia – and Washington, D.C.
The cities and states selected for the exit poll were among those with the largest or fastest-growing Asian American populations according to the 2010 U.S. Census. Poll sites with large concentrations of Asian American voters were selected based on voter registration files, census data, advice from local elections officials and community leaders, and a history of voting problems. 845 volunteers were recruited by the co-sponsoring organizations, including 17 national organizations, 49 community-based organizations, 12 law firms, 20 bar associations, and 26 Asian Pacific American Law Student Association chapters and undergraduate student associations. All volunteers were trained in conducting the exit poll. All were nonpartisan. Volunteers were instructed to approach all Asian American voters as they were leaving poll sites to ask them to complete anonymous questionnaires.
Survey questionnaires were written in English and 11 Asian languages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Khmer, Korean, Punjabi, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
I. PROFILE OF SURVEY RESPONDENTS
Survey respondents were Chinese (35%), Asian Indian (13%), Bangladeshi (11%), Korean (10%), Vietnamese (8%), Filipino (7%), Pakistani (3%), Cambodian (2%), Indo-Caribbean (1%), and Arab (1%). The remaining respondents were of other Asian ethnicities, including Japanese, Laotian, and multiracial Asians.
A quarter of respondents (24%) identified English as their native language, while 28% identified one or more Chinese languages as their native language, 20% spoke one or more South Asian languages (including Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, and Punjabi), 6% spoke one or more Southeast Asian languages (including Vietnamese and Khmer), 9% spoke Korean, 6% spoke Tagalog, and 5% identified another Asian language as their native language.
Limited English Proficiency
One of three (32%) Asian American voters surveyed said they were limited English proficient (“LEP”), which is defined as reading English less than “very well.” Of first-time voters, 33% were limited English proficient. Of all language groups polled, Korean-speaking voters exhibited the highest rate of limited English proficiency at 63%. Sixty percent (60%) of Khmer-speaking voters and 55% of Mandarin-speaking voters were also LEP. Among South Asian Americans, most voters were largely proficient in English, although 38% of Bengali-speaking voters were limited English proficient. Seven percent (7%) of voters said they had difficulty voting because no assistance was available in their native language, while 15% said they either used the interpreters or translated materials provided at the site or brought their own.
Thirty percent (30%) of Asian Americans polled said that they voted for the first time in the November 2016 Presidential Election. The highest rates of first-time voters were among South Asians, with 43% of Bangladeshi, 40% of Pakistani, 27% of Asian Indian, and 23% of Indo-Caribbean Americans voting for the first time.
Foreign-Born, Naturalized Citizens
Seventy-six percent (76%) of all respondents were foreign-born, naturalized citizens. South Asians had among the highest rates of foreign-born, naturalized citizens (91% of Bangladeshis, 81% of Asian Indians, 80% of Pakistanis, and 75% of Indo-Caribbeans). Seventy-eight percent (78%) of both Vietnamese and Korean American voters were also born outside of the U.S. The groups with the largest proportions of native-born citizens were Arab (32%) and Chinese (29%).
Twenty-four percent (24%) of respondents were between the ages of 18 to 29. Twenty-one percent (21%) were between the ages of 30 to 39. Seventeen percent (17%) were between the ages of 40 to 49. Fifteen percent (15%) were between 50 to 59 years old. Thirteen percent (13%) were between 60 to 69 years old. Ten percent (10%) were 70 years old or older.
Of the voters polled, 52% were female and 48% male.
Twenty percent (20%) of all respondents had no formal education in the United States. Among those who were educated in the U.S., 45% held a college or university degree, 21% held an advanced degree, and 10% held a high school or trade school degree. The remaining 3% said that their highest level of education in the U.S. was some high school or elementary school.
The majority (59%) of Asian American respondents were enrolled in the Democratic Party. Eleven percent (11%) were enrolled in the Republican Party. Three percent (3%) were enrolled in a party other than the Democratic or Republican parties. Twenty-seven percent (27%) of all Asian American respondents were not enrolled in any party.
There was some variation among ethnicities. Enrollment in the Democratic Party was highest among South Asian ethnicities; 84% of Indo-Caribbean, 83% of Bangladeshi, 79% of Pakistani, and 64% of Asian Indian American voters were enrolled as Democrats, compared to 59% of all Asian Americans surveyed nationally. Vietnamese American and Filipino American respondents had higher rates of enrollment in the Republican Party at 27% and 23%, respectively. Thirty-eight percent (38%) of Cambodian Americans and 36% of Chinese Americans were not enrolled in any political party, the highest rates of all groups surveyed.
II. THE ASIAN AMERICAN VOTE
Generally, Asian Americans demonstrated political unity, even across ethnic lines. Asian Americans largely voted as a bloc for Hillary Clinton. Overall, Asian Americans also showed strong support for Democratic congressional candidates, except when an Asian American candidate was in the race.
Important Factors Influencing the Vote for President
Based on all factors mentioned, the most important factors influencing the vote for President were Economy/Jobs (22%), Immigration/Refugees (16%), Health Care (16%), and Education (15%). Other important factors included Terrorism/Security (10%), Women’s Issues (10%), and the Environment (6%).
Vote for President by Ethnicity
Nearly four of five Asian Americans (79%) voted for Hillary Clinton and 18% voted for Donald Trump for President. Support for Clinton was particularly strong among first-time voters and South Asian voters.
Among Vietnamese American respondents, 65% voted for Clinton and 32% voted for Trump. This was a significant decrease from the 54% support that Mitt Romney received in the 2012 presidential election and the 67% support that John McCain received in the 2008 presidential election from Vietnamese American voters, according to the AALDEF 2012 and 2008 exit polls.
South Asian American voters showed the strongest support for Clinton, a trend that has been consistent over the past several presidential elections. In November 2016, 90% of South Asians polled voted for Clinton, 90% for Obama in 2012, 93% for Obama in 2008, and 90% for John Kerry in 2004. In 2016, 96% of Pakistani, 96% of Bangladeshi, 91% of Indo-Caribbean, and 84% of Asian Indian Americans voted for Clinton – a higher rate than Asian Americans nationally.
Vote for President by State
Asian American voters in Washington, D.C., Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts were among the strongest supporters for Clinton, whereas Asian American voters in Louisiana, who were mostly Vietnamese, were among the strongest supporters for Trump. While Asian Americans in the Northeast voted for Clinton at high rates (87% in Pennsylvania, 84% in Massachusetts, 83% in New Jersey, and 81% in New York), only 46% of those polled in Louisiana voted for Clinton. Asian American voters in southern states voted for Trump at a higher rate than Asian Americans nationally. In Louisiana, 50% of voters supported Trump, while 37% in Texas and 26% in Georgia supported Trump.
Crossover Voting and Unenrolled Voters
Crossover voting favored Clinton over Trump in the 2016 elections. A larger percentage of Asian Americans enrolled in the Republican Party crossed party lines to vote for Clinton for President (20%), compared to registered Democrats who crossed party lines to vote for Trump (5%). In 2012, 13% of Republicans voted for Obama and 3% of Democrats voted for Romney. In 2016, of those Asian Americans not enrolled in a political party, the majority favored Clinton over Trump by more than a 3 to 1 margin (73% to 22%).
Among Asian American females, 15% voted for Trump, 83% for Clinton, and 2% for another candidate. Among Asian American males, 21% voted for Trump, 76% for Clinton, and 3% for another candidate.
The gender breakdown shows that across party lines, females voted for Clinton at higher rates than males, except for female Republicans. Ninety-six percent (96%) of female Democrats, 68% of females affiliated with another party, and 77% of females not enrolled in a party voted for Clinton, compared to 92% of male Democrats, 53% of males affiliated with another party, and 70% of males not enrolled in a party. Both female and male Republicans voted for Clinton at a rate of 20%. Female Republicans voted for Trump at a slightly higher rate (78%) than male Republicans (77%). Generally, a greater number of males than females voted for third party candidates, except in the Democratic Party; 1% of both male and female Democrats voted for a third party candidate.
There was overwhelming support for Clinton across all age levels, especially voters under 40. At 89%, voters between ages 18 to 29 showed the greatest support for Clinton. In that age category, only 8% of respondents voted for Trump, compared to 14% of those ages 30 to 39, 21% of those 40 to 49, 25% of those 50 to 59, and 25% ages 70 and above. Voters between ages 60 to 69 showed the greatest support for Trump at 28%.
There was strong support for Clinton among both native and foreign-born Asian American voters. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of those born in the U.S. and 77% of naturalized citizens voted for Clinton.
Similarly, Asian Americans fluent in English and limited English proficient voters showed strong support for Clinton. Eighty-two percent (82%) of voters who read English “very well” and 74% of limited English proficient Asian Americans voted for Clinton. In contrast, 15% of English proficient and 26% of limited English proficient Asian Americans voted for Trump. Three percent (3%) of English proficient voters and 1% of limited English proficient voters voted for another candidate.
Across the category of religious affiliation, the majority of Asian Americans said they voted for Clinton. Of those who voted for Trump, Protestants showed the greatest support at 30%, followed by Catholics at 28%. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Protestants and 70% of Catholics voted for Clinton. Muslims showed the strongest support for Clinton at 97%, while 2% of Muslims voted for Trump.
Vote for Congress
In most of the congressional races polled, the majority of Asian Americans supported Democratic candidates.
U.S. Senate Races
In Florida, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, 73% of Asian Americans polled voted for the Democratic senatorial candidates and 21% voted for the Republican candidates.
In Nevada, 66% of Asian Americans voted for Democratic candidate Catherine Cortez Masto to replace outgoing Democratic senator Harry Reid, whereas 29% voted for Republican candidate Joe Heck. As in the 2012 senate race, the Nevada electorate was closely split, with 47% voting for Masto and 45% voting for Heck.
In Florida, 69% of Asian Americans voted for Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy, while 25% voted for the incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. In comparison, 44% of the Florida electorate voted for Murphy and 52% voted for Rubio.
In Pennsylvania, 79% of Asian Americans voted for Democratic candidate Katie McGinty, while 14% voted for the incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey. In comparison, 47% of the Pennsylvania electorate voted for McGinty and 49% for Toomey.
In Louisiana, 62% of Asian Americans voted for Republican candidate Joseph Cao, a Vietnamese American who formerly represented Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district. Republican candidate John Kennedy and Democratic candidate Foster Campbell went on to the runoff election on December 10, 2016, with Kennedy winning the race.
U.S. House of Representatives Races
Similarly, 76% of Asian Americans voted for the Democratic House candidates and 16% voted for the Republican candidates. Two percent (2%) said they voted for another candidate and 7% said they did not vote. Results varied by congressional district.
In Georgia, as in 2012, the majority of Asian American voters supported the Democratic candidates in the 4th and 6th districts, while their vote was much closer in the 7th district. Asian Americans supported Democratic incumbent candidate Hank Johnson (63%), who won the seat, in the 4th district and Democratic candidate Rodney Stooksbury (69%), who lost to Tom Price, in the 6th district. They were split between Democrat Rashid Malik (49%) and Republican incumbent Rob Woodall (44%) in the 7th district. The seat went to Woodall.
In Michigan, a plurality of voters (50%) supported Republican incumbent candidate Justin Amash, who won the seat, in the 3rd district. Seventy-nine percent (79%) supported Democrat Anil Kumar, who lost to Republican incumbent Dave Trott, in the 11th district. There was strong support for Democratic Representatives Debbie Dingell (78%) in the 12th district and Brenda Lawrence (93%) in the 14th district. Both candidates won their races.
In New York, Asian Americans showed overwhelming support for Democratic candidates, who won their seats. Of the districts where voters were polled, support ranged from 78% for Representative Grace Meng in the 6th district to 92% for Representative Jerrold Nadler in the 10th district.
In Pennsylvania, Asian Americans supported Democratic incumbent candidate Robert Brady (78%) in the 1st district and Democrat Dwight Evans (70%) in the 2nd district. Brady and Evans were the winning candidates. In the 8th district, the only competitive U.S. House race in the state, Asian Americans supported Democrat Steve Santarsiero (80%), although the seat went to Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.
In Texas, 45% of Asian Americans voted for Democratic incumbent candidate Al Green in the 9th district, while 44% voted for his opponent, Republican Jeff Martin. The seat went to Green. The majority of Asian Americans (52%) in the 22nd district supported Democrat Mark Gibson, who lost to Republican Representative Pete Olson. A plurality (48%) in the 32nd district supported Republican Representative Pete Sessions.
III. THE ISSUES
Support for stricter gun control laws was consistent across all categories polled, including political party, religion, English proficiency, voting experience, nativity, gender, and all education levels and age groups. The majority of Asian Americans (78%) showed support for stricter gun control laws, although there was some variation among ethnic groups.
Gun control is not a partisan issue for Asian Americans. Eighty-two percent (82%) of Asian American Democrats, 61% of Asian American Republicans, and 76% of those not enrolled in a political party supported stricter gun control.
Seventy-eight percent (78%) of English proficient and 77% of limited English proficient Asian American voters supported stricter gun control laws. Seventy-three percent (73%) of first-time voters and 80% of all other voters also supported such laws. The majority of Asian Americans from all education levels supported stricter gun control, with the highest numbers among those with a graduate degree (82%) and a low of 67% among those with some high school.
Among the ethnic groups with the highest support for stricter gun control were the Indo- Caribbean (83%), Korean (82%), Asian Indian (80%) and Chinese (80%) communities. While a low of 55% of Cambodian Americans supported stricter gun control laws, 26% said that they opposed it, and 11% said that they “don’t know.”
The strongest support for stricter gun control laws was in Washington, D.C. (88%), Nevada (83%), New York (81%), and California (80%). New York and California have among the strictest gun control laws in the country. In addition to Nevada, there was high support for stricter gun control laws in key swing states, such as Florida (76%), Pennsylvania (73%), and Michigan (72%).
Voters in Louisiana showed the lowest support for stricter gun control laws, although still at a majority of 63%, compared to nearly 20% who opposed it and 17% who said they “don’t know.” Voters in New Mexico and Georgia showed the strongest opposition at 23% and 20%, respectively.
Of the four issue-related questions on the survey, voters were the most split on their opinions of police treatment of different racial and ethnic groups. Half (50%) of voters responded “no,” they do not believe that the police treat racial and ethnic groups equally. 26% said “yes” and 24% said they “don’t know.”
While a majority of registered Democrats (54%) said they do not think that the police treat racial and ethnic groups equally, a plurality of registered Republicans (39%), those enrolled in other parties (49%), and those not enrolled in any party (47%) agreed. Republican voters were the most split on this issue, with 38% approving of police treatment of different racial and ethnic groups and 23% responding that they “don’t know.”
The greatest disagreement over police treatment of different racial and ethnic groups came from voters in the age group 18 to 29, with 68% citing unequal treatment by police. This sentiment decreased steadily as age increased, to 32% for voters aged 70 and over.
The ethnic groups that showed the strongest disagreement that police treatment of different racial and ethnic groups is equal were Koreans (64%) and Indo-Caribbeans (59%). These groups were the only two groups to have a majority of its voters respond “no.” The ethnic groups that showed the strongest agreement that police treatment of different racial and ethnic groups is equal were Cambodians (32%) and Vietnamese (32%), who also had the highest rates of voters who said they “don’t know,” at 28%. A plurality among Cambodians and Vietnamese still disagreed that police treatment of different racial and ethnic groups is equal, at 40% and 41%, respectively.
In every state included in this survey, a majority or plurality of voters did not think the police treat racial and ethnic groups equally. Among the states with the highest disagreement that police treatment of different racial and ethnic groups is equal are Washington, D.C. (79%), Virginia (55%), New Jersey (54%), Maryland (51%), and Florida (51%). The state with the highest agreement that police treatment of different racial and ethnic groups is equal is Texas, at 40%, with 34% of voters who disagreed and 27% who said they “don’t know.”
Comprehensive Immigration Reform
As in 2012, support for comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, was consistent across all categories polled. Sixty-five percent (65%) of Asian Americans, the same percentage as in 2012, showed support for comprehensive immigration reform.
In the category of party enrollment, Democrats showed the greatest support for comprehensive immigration reform, at 72%. Republicans showed the least support, at 50%, compared to 58% of those not enrolled in a party. These figures are consistent with the data from 2012, when 73% of Democrats, 53% of Republicans, and 57% of those not enrolled in a party said they supported comprehensive immigration reform.
As age increased, support for this issue decreased steadily while opposition increased. Seventy-seven percent (77%) of voters in the 18-29 age group supported comprehensive immigration reform and 6% opposed it, whereas 57% of voters 70 and over supported it and 22% opposed it. For all age groups, those who responded that they “don’t know” remained between 18-22%.
A majority of Asian American voters from every state supported comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship. The states or jurisdictions with the strongest support are Washington, D.C. (85%), Florida (76%), Maryland (70%), New Jersey (68%), and New York (67%). Texas had the weakest support, at 55%.
As with comprehensive immigration reform, 65% of Asian American voters expressed support for laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Sixteen percent (16%) of voters said they opposed it and 20% said that they “don’t know.” There was some variation across categories, such as party enrollment, age, religion, and ethnicity.
Just under half of Republican voters (49%) said they supported laws to protect LGBTQ people, while 28% said they opposed them. Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Democratic voters supported them and 13% opposed them.
Unlike the levels of support for stricter gun control laws, support for laws to protect LGBTQ people decreased among older voters. For example, the number of voters aged 18-29 who supported laws to protect LGBTQ people (85%) was more than twice the number of voters aged 70 and over in the same category (42%).
Across ethnic groups, the greatest support came from the Filipino (80%), Indo-Caribbean (80%), Asian Indian (71%), Cambodian (66%), and Chinese (65%) communities. The lowest support came from Arab Americans (47%) and Korean Americans (51%).
Support among religious affiliations varied the most widely for this issue as compared to the other three issues in the survey. Nearly four of five Asian American voters with no religious affiliation (78%) supported laws to protect LGBTQ people. The least support came from Protestants, at 47%. This group was the most split on this issue with their opposition at 34% and those who responded that they “don’t know” at 19%.
The vast majority of voters in Washington, D.C. (90%) supported laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Florida followed at 77%, California at 76%, Nevada at 73%, and Maryland at 71%. The states with the weakest support, although still the majority, were Louisiana (53%), New Mexico (55%), and Texas (56%).
In Texas, 56% of voters said they supported such laws, 20% opposed them, and 24% said they “don’t know.” Texas Bill SB6 is a 2017 proposal that requires transgender individuals to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings, and public university campuses according to their biological sex, regardless of their gender identity.
Introduced in 2016, the “Physical Privacy Act” is a Virginia bill that requires all individuals in government, school, and public university buildings to use the bathroom consistent with the sex listed on the individual’s birth certificate. In Virginia, 66% of Asian American voters supported laws to protect LGBTQ people, 16% opposed them, and 19% said they “don’t know.”
IV. ACCESS TO THE VOTE
The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensures that all American citizens can fully exercise their right to vote. It protects racial, ethnic, and language minorities from voter discrimination and ensures equal access to the vote. Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, also known as the Language Assistance Provisions, covers a jurisdiction or political subdivision when the Census Bureau certifies that more than 10,000 or 5% of all voting age citizens in that jurisdiction, who are of the same language minority group—Alaskan Native, Asian, Spanish, or Native American—are limited English proficient (LEP) and have an average illiteracy rate higher than the national average.
Section 203 covers 12 states and 28 cities and counties for eight Asian language groups: Bengali, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, “Asian Indian” (which has been designated as Bengali in Queens County, New York and as Hindi in Cook County, Illinois), and “Other” (which has been designated as Thai in Los Angeles County, California).
Section 208 of the federal Voting Rights Act gives voters the right to an assistor of choice, which can be a family member or friend, a minor, a non-citizen, or someone who is not a registered voter. The only exception is that the assistor cannot be the voter’s employer or union representative. If a voter needs assistance to cast a ballot, the assistor can accompany the voter inside the voting booth.
AALDEF’s exit poll showed that nearly one in four (24%) Asian Americans identified English as their native language.
Under Section 203, certain jurisdictions in which the AALDEF exit poll was conducted were required to provide Asian language assistance, such as translated ballots, instructions, sample ballots, and interpreters. For example, in New York City, in Kings County (Brooklyn) and New York County (Manhattan), Chinese language assistance is required.
Asian Americans were also asked about voting problems they encountered on Election Day. Of those polled, improper requests for identification, missing or misspelled names in voter rolls, and lack of language access were among the most common problems. Similar to other voters, Asian Americans also faced misdirection to poll sites, machine breakdowns, long lines, and inadequate notification of site assignments or changes.
American Muslim voters were specifically targeted by poll workers with requests for additional identification at poll sites in Michigan and New York. In Michigan, some poll workers required American Muslim women to remove their niqabs and fully reveal their faces in order to vote. In Brooklyn, NY, American Muslim voters were improperly told they had to show voter ID. In Queens, NY, a poll worker instructed a voter to “vote down the line.” The Board of Elections removed the poll worker in response to AALDEF’s complaint.
The Asian American community is the fastest growing racial group in the country, increasing at over four times the rate of the total U.S. population. Despite this immense growth, mainstream media polls and politicians still ignore Asian American voters. More outreach and education are needed concerning language assistance, voting requirements, and voters’ rights, especially with older and limited English proficient Asian Americans.
As in past years, Asian Americans encountered many voting barriers. While Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires language assistance in certain jurisdictions, mitigating some barriers, there are still shortcomings in local compliance. Aggressive enforcement, thorough training of poll workers, and better recruitment of interpreters and bilingual poll workers are necessary to ensure that all Americans can fully exercise their right to vote.
Many congressional representatives received strong support from their Asian American constituents. These elected representatives should address the needs and concerns of the Asian American community in their districts. AALDEF will conduct the Asian American Exit Poll again in New York City in 2017 and in multiple states for the 2018 Midterm Elections.