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Kay Kang on SB 202: 'It’s a bad situation, the law makes it so much harder for people to participate in elections.'

July 6, 2023 Perspective

An Interview with Kay Kang on the Barriers of SB 202

This interview is cross-posted from our affiliate partners at Asian American Advancing Justice - Atlanta.

As Advancing Justice’s lawsuit against the restrictive, anti-voting rights bill SB 202 continues, communities in Georgia are coming together to defend their right to vote in the face of the additional barriers it has created.

Our Litigation Director Meredyth Yoon and Voting Rights Legal Fellow Kim Leung sat down to talk with Kay Kang about her work with voters who have limited English proficiency, the obstacles they already face while participating in elections, and how the provisions of SB 202 have impacted their voting experience.

Advancing Justice-Atlanta Outreach Coordinator Kay Kang sitting on sofa, speaking animatedly.

What’s your position at Advancing Justice-Atlanta?

I am the Outreach Coordinator at Advancing Justice-Atlanta, I have been working here since October 2019 and have been helping voters even before then. I work with elderly first-time voters who have limited English proficiency by going out into the community to talk to and educate members at places such as community events, centers, and churches.

How do you find working with the community members you serve?

Working with seniors has an emotional feeling to it. Many have citizenship and really want to be voters, but since it’s their first time it is a very difficult process for them.

What difficulties do the voters you work with currently face?

I have found that more than 70% of Asian Americans who were not born in America do not speak English fluently, so there is a huge language barrier. Many also do not know how to handle computers and other new technology. They are in their 70s or 80s and not in the computer generation. Technology is a big barrier. It is different and difficult, sometimes they don’t even know where to start.

Kay Kang engaged in conversation with Litigation Director Meredyth Yoon and Voting Rights Legal Fellow Kim Leung.

What questions do the voters you work with have about voting?

They don’t know about the voting procedures and are curious about how American elections run. So I explain it to them step-by-step and talk them through it. Even if it’s just one person, I want them to get registered and get out the vote. That is my goal.

One person makes a big difference. If it wasn’t for you doing this important work, how else would other people get information?

Voter outreach materials from different organizations around Georgia, I guess. The materials are very limited. I remember times when Asian Americans were not welcomed or supported at polling places so I want to welcome them through step-by-step instructions on how to participate in the elections.

How has the new law, SB 202 which was passed in 2021, changed your work?

For the first-time voters, to request an absentee ballot using an online portal is a complicated process that makes it easier to throw out their vote because they are not computer generation. The request process cannot even be done entirely online. Georgia voting laws mandate a “pen and ink” signature on forms. This means that you need to download, print, scan absentee applications, or take a picture of your phone and upload it.

People need help at every step of the process. Also, If they don’t do it correctly, they receive a notice in English. It is not helpful at all since it is not provided in-language.

It made it more difficult because the time period to request and return absentee ballots has been reduced and it gives the voters more pressure. It’s a bad situation, the law makes it so much harder for people to participate in elections.

What other barriers are these voters facing?

The time has been reduced for them to vote, and people have a hard time finding drop boxes. Elderly voters also have many health problems so they cannot move well and are handicapped at the polls. They would prefer to vote at home.

Also, the in-person turnout overall is low. Some are embarrassed to go to the polls, because of the language barriers. Many do not know the procedures and this prevents them from voting. This is why many want to vote by mail, they feel more comfortable and can take their time.

How long does it take you to help a single community member from start to end?

I’ll give you a recent example from my work with a fellow Georgian. Mrs. Geum, who speaks Korean, called me asking what to do about the absentee ballot. I told her you have to fill out the application and wait until you receive it. She has a language barrier and has never done this before. She is concerned about failing while doing this and her vote not being counted.

She called me at every single step and I talked through every step of the process. From the first time I talked to Mrs. Geum until she was able to vote it was more than 2 months. There are many people like Mrs. Geum in Georgia. It is inconvenient when somebody like her does not use English and there aren’t materials that are in-language for them. It becomes a longer process, but this is my job. One person’s vote does make a change.

Next time, they still won’t know what to do unless in-language resources and support are available so I will keep helping them.

What’s important for Georgia policymakers to understand about the Asian American voting experience?

If there were more resources in language then more would vote. Voting should be easier, they are looking for help and support in participating in elections. We are filling a gap. People need more information and more time.

Why is this work important to you?

People are so appreciative of what we are doing. The elections influence our daily lives and we should have good politicians in power.

Every election, we'll be ready, I will continue doing this.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.