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Voters have a right to language assistance

API VoteAs ballots are cast all over the state today, it is important to remind voters and poll workers about Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act which allows voters to get language assistance at the polls. The relevant North Carolina statute states that any registered voter who has trouble reading is allowed to be assisted in the voting booth by any person of their choice, except a candidate for office.

Unfortunately, poll workers are often not trained to comply with this law. This lack of knowledge and training results in voters not being able to get assistance from a person of their choice and, in worst case scenarios, can result in a voter not casting their vote due to a lack of language assistance.

Many ethnic groups face these language challenges at the polls but a new report put out by Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) puts a spotlight on the language problems faced by Asian Americans, since their vote could affect the outcome of the midterm election. According to the report, 32.65% of the Asian American population in North Carolina has limited English proficiency. A 2012 post-election survey of Asian Americans found that turnout among those who had difficulty speaking English was nine percent lower than those who are English proficient. Overall, in 2012, eight percent of Asian Americans who have difficulty speaking English cited language barriers as a reason for not voting.

Having recognized a correlation between language barriers and low voter participation, Congress passed Section 208 of the VRA in 1982 to ensure that language does not stand in the way of casting a ballot.

“Every eligible voter in the United States should be able to cast a ballot and participate in our democracy,” said Mee Moua, executive director and president of AAJC. “Ensuring that all voters know their rights at the polls is critical to their participation this November. As Asian Americans continue to grow in population, and turn out to vote, we must do everything we can to support their participation and make visible their political impact.”

To assist with Asian American voters with any problems at the polls, AAJC and Asian Pacific Islander American Vote, have organized the nation’s largest multilingual phone bank which will offer assistance in seventeen different languages. If voters have any problems at the polls today, they should call 1-888-API-VOTE.

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