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Asian Americans Advancing Justice - CA Unveils New Report Revealing That Translated Resources Fail Limited-English Proficient Voters

May 10, 2017 News


Civil rights organization offers one-click access to open-access data and most in-depth analysis of language access in California elections ever produced

Contact: Christina So, christinaso@advancingjustice-alc.org, 415-848-7728

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – California (Advancing Justice – CA) released a landmark report demonstrating California’s failure to adequately provide access to the ballot for hundreds of thousands of immigrant and limited-English proficient (LEP) voters.

The report’s findings — which show that the provisions of California state law supposedly guaranteeing translated ballot materials and bilingual poll workers to LEP voters are both not strong enough and not consistently complied with — call for the passage of AB 918, the California Voting for All Act (Bonta and Gomez).

Titled “Voices of Democracy: The State of Language Access in California’s 2016 Elections,” the report is the most comprehensive examination of the language assistance available to California’s LEP voters ever undertaken. It is based on the findings of the nation’s largest poll monitoring effort in the November 2016 elections, in which almost 600 volunteers organized by Advancing Justice – California visited almost 1,300 polling places across California to determine compliance with federal and state language access laws.

The report contains statewide trends from an analysis of 25 counties (encompassing almost 90 percent of the State’s population) as well as county-by-county snapshots. Findings include:

While state law requires that translated “facsimile ballots” are posted in polling places with LEP populations, 24.7 percent of these facsimile ballots were misplaced or not displayed at polling locations. In many cases poll workers openly admitted that they did not know what a facsimile ballot was or when they were supposed to provide it to voters.

By contrast, just 3.8 percent of translated ballots required by federal law were missing, suggesting that county elections offices can prioritize language access requirements effectively.

At polling places with LEP communities, the state law only requires county elections officials to make “reasonable efforts” to recruit a bilingual poll worker. This requirement is not taken seriously: a bilingual poll worker was only present 38 percent of the time under the state’s “reasonable efforts” requirement.

In addition to a lack of compliance, the state law’s provisions in this area are inadequate:

The state law does not require any training of poll workers about facsimile ballots, does not require any translated signage directing voters to the facsimiles, and only requires the posting of the facsimile on a polling place wall (thus denying LEP voters who seek to use a facsimile the opportunity for a private vote).

Facsimile ballots are not available in any way to vote-by-mail voters.

No oversight is completed by any agency over counties’ success or failure at recruiting bilingual poll workers and their results are not reported publicly.

“Our report findings are significant as they show that our voting system is failing a significant number of California residents under current language assistance laws,” said Aarti Kohli, Executive Director of Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.

“Even when materials were present, poll workers often didn’t know what they were, what to do with them, and failed to make them available to voters,” said Jonathan Stein, Staff Attorney and Voting Rights Program Manager for Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. “This is unacceptable. We should take the extra steps to get these materials into the hands of voters they were created for.”

California is home to 6.9 million individuals over 5 years old who are LEP. As the state with the most immigrant voters and the most LEP voters, California has an obligation to be on the cutting edge of ensuring access to diverse communities. Advancing Justice – CA is calling for the passage of AB 918, legislation that would remedy these problems and make California a nationwide leader in providing language access to immigrant and LEP voters.

“We need legislation to ensure that voters are able to cast an informed ballot,” said Deanna Kitamura, Voting Rights Project Director at Advancing Justice – LA. “The state legislature has an opportunity to help remedy this problem through passage of AB 918, which will solve many of the problems identified in our report.”

For more information on the report go to www.advancingjustice-alc.org.

Spokespeople on hand to discuss the report and its resources include Jonathan Stein, Voting Rights Staff Attorney and Program Manager at Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus and Deanna Kitamura, Voting Rights Project Director at Advancing Justice – Los Angeles.


Advancing Justice – CA is a partnership between Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (Advancing Justice – ALC) in San Francisco and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA).


Advancing Justice – ALC was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights Asian American organization. Recognizing that social, economic, political and racial inequalities continue to exist in the United States, Advancing Justice – ALC is committed to the pursuit of equality and justice for all sectors of our society, with a specific focus directed toward addressing the needs of low-income, immigrant and underserved Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Visit www.advancingjustice-alc.org.


Founded in 1983 as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Advancing Justice – LA is the largest civil rights organization working in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. Through direct services, impact litigation, policy advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building, Advancing Justice – LA focuses on the most vulnerable members of Asian American and NHPI communities while also building a strong voice for civil rights and social justice. Visit https://www.advancingjustice-la.org.