by Jonathan Arogeti
The Asian American Justice Center’s Terry M. Ao recently spoke with ACSblog about how the Voting Rights Act, which protects American voters generally from disenfranchisement, specifically bolsters the franchise for Asian Americans.
Ao, the director of Census and Voting Programs at AAJC, said that for Asian Americans, “one of the largest hurdles that voters face is the language barrier.” Section 203 of the VRA extends protections to members of language minority communities in jurisdictions with significant language minority populations. “Where it has been properly implemented,” she said, “we’ve seen increased voter participations and it’s really done a lot to help break down these language barriers for the Asian Americans.”
The Voting Rights Act requires the Census Bureau to determine political jurisdictions that are subject to minority language assistance provisions. Following the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau determined that Section 203 covers 43 Asian American populations in 22 jurisdictions (counties, boroughs, census areas or cities) in 11 states. Furthermore, the provisions cover eight language groups, an increase from five from the last determination in 2002.
“Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires language assistance for voters, for the covered languages in covered jurisdictions,” said Ao, “but that really means that the assistance has to occur throughout the voting process; so that’s both pre-Election Day as well as on Election Day.”
Increasing voting participation in Asian American communities requires a coordinated public education effort aimed at voters, poll workers and public officials. Ao said, “It includes things like written materials--translated written materials as well as oral assistance at the polls -- and publicity of the availability of language assistance to the covered language groups.”
Watch the full interview with Ao below.