Korean Americans faced voting barriers, study finds


NEW YORK — While Asian Americans turned out in record numbers in the 2012 presidential elections, a high number of Korean American voters faced voting problems, according to a new analysis by the Asian American Legal Defense Fund released March 27.

The analysis was based on interviews with nearly 1,000 Korean American voters in six states with a large Korean population, a subset of data from a 14-state multilingual exit poll of 9,096 Asian American voters, conducted by AALDEF after the 2012 election.

The recent analysis, which provides a snapshot of Korean American voters, found that among those surveyed, 337 said they were asked to show an ID, even though only 65 were first-time voters.

According to the data, many incidents of discrimination against Korean American voters occurred. In Virginia, they were put in segregated voting lines. In Georgia, Korean Americans were not allowed to vote, because they were not able to provide documentation of U.S. citizenship under the state’s new proof-of-citizenship law.

For example, under the Georgia’s new policy, first-time voters and those who register by mail are required not only to present a birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization papers or a driver’s license, but also to provide additional forms of identification such as a bank statement, current bill, government check, paycheck or other government-issued document that shows the name and address of the voter.

Glenn Magpantay, democracy program director for AALDEF, said that because of the voting barriers that Korean Americans experienced, his organization and Korean American community groups have called on Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto two bills — SB 1256 and HB 1337 — that restrict the forms of acceptable identification that voters may present at election polls.

These bills would, Magpantay said, “prevent hundreds of thousands of eligible Virginians from voting.”

The AALDEF analysis also showed that dozens of Korean American voters complained about the lack of translators and interpreters at polling precincts, and nearly two dozen said they were asked to prove their U.S. citizenship.

Other barriers cited by Korean American voters include missing or misspelled names in the list of voters, and complaints of incompetent and hostile poll workers.

Among Asian subgroups, Korean American voters needed the most language assistance, the study found, which contributed to voting problems: more than two-thirds of them have limited English proficiency, compared to 37 percent of all Asian Americans nationally.

While Asian American voters are often lumped together, AALDEF Executive Director Margaret Fung says, the new data offers a snapshot of Korean American voters as a distinct part of that voting bloc.

A majority (84 percent) of Korean American voters were foreign-born and naturalized U.S. citizens, while 16 percent of them were born in the United States. A fifth of them voted for the first-time in 2012, according to the study.

With views, perhaps, shaped by their own immigrant experience, nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of Korean Americans backed immigration reform compared to just under half of Vietnamese voters (49 percent) and 57 percent of Chinese voters.

“Asian Americans are a diverse community with a varying social, political and economic backgrounds,” Fung said. “The poll provides much needed data on Asian American voting trends, especially as our community’s political influence continues to grow.”

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