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Language barriers at the polls a concern for Asian-American voters

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Image: Institute for Southern Studies

It’s been all about voter registration up to this point, but experts are beginning to express concern about language barriers on Election Day for one of North Carolina’s fastest growing populations: Asian-Americans.

“Too often these challenges stand in the way of Asian-Americans achieving full political and voting power,” said Mee Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).

She and other members of the national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition spoke during a teleconference Tuesday. The organization has partnered with numerous agencies across America to tackle issues in the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

There are currently 14 states with voting restrictions, including strict photo identification requirements and early voting cutbacks, which will be enforced during this election. North Carolina isn’t one of them, but that could change in future elections.

Between 2000 and 2010, North Carolina’s Asian-American population grew by 85 percent — the fastest rate among Southern states and the third-fastest in the country, according to the Institute for Southern Studies. About 100,000 Asian Americans are registered to vote, reflecting only 58 percent of eligible Asian-American voters.

The population in the state is diverse, with over 20 Asian ethnicities and countries of origin represented and dozens of Asian languages spoken. The largest communities are concentrated in Raleigh and Charlotte.

Election Protection, AAJC and Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote), wants to make voting at the polls as seamless as possible regardless of a voter’s native language, so there is a hotline established for questions, and voting and bilingual assistance. The number is 1-888-API-VOTE (1-888-274-8683), and bilingual assistance is available in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali.

There is also a hotline for anyone who has voting questions or complaints; that number is 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683), and is administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Latino voters who need assistance can call 888-Ve-Y-Vota (888-838-8682), which is administered by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

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