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Asian Americans face racism in polls

By Suman Guha Mozumder in New York
November 03, 2004 12:59 IST
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Asian American voters turned out in large numbers to vote in the 2004 Presidential elections – and faced more than their fair share of racist remarks by poll workers, and unjustified demands that they provide identification, in several polling places in New York and New Jersey.

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A civil rights watchdog group in New York said in many places there was also a shortage of Asian-language interpreters at polling sites, and in some places South Asian voters were directed to wrong polling sites causing confusion and frustration.

"At Public School 115 in Floral park, Queens, over 100 mostly South Asian voters were wrongly turned away and told to go to two other polling sites," said Margaret Fung, executive director of Asian American Legal Defense and
Education Fund.

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"This is outrageous because the voters were supposed to be given correct information by the Board of Election, which, apparently, it has failed to give," Fung told

Fung said at other places in Queens, where an unusually large number of Asian voters appeared at their regular polling places, there was confusion because poll workers could not direct voters to the right polling places. She claimed that the voters also could not get in touch with the NYC Board of Elections voter hotline.

The AALDEF dispatched over 600 volunteer attorneys, students and community workers to 175 poll sites in eight states to monitor voting. Fung said in one instance, at PS 69 in Jackson Heights that has a large concentration of South Asians including Bangladeshi Americans, poll workers blamed "oriental guys" for taking too long to vote.

"Asian American voters were subjected to racial profiling at the polls since they were routinely asked for identification even when it was not required," she said.

Morshed Alam, commissioner for City Voter Assistance Commission, said he could not confirm or deny such allegations. But he said people with such complaints should come to a public hearing scheduled for November 7.

"They must come forward and let us know about their complaints and grievances so we can hear from Board of Education as well," he said.

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Suman Guha Mozumder in New York