No changes at polls, despite complaint over Asian-language interpretation services

It has been just over a month since Asian-American advocacy groups filed a complaint against the Philadelphia Commissioners’ Office for providing inadequate language-interpretation at the polls.

It has been just over a month since Asian-American advocacy groups filed a complaint against the Philadelphia Commissioners’ Office for providing inadequate language-interpretation at the polls.

The city has argued against many of the coalition’s assertions, but they include allegations of too few interpreters being present for the past several elections; that many people speaking one Asian language were sent to polling locations where another Asian language was spoken; and that cards with information on how to access a telephone line providing real-time interpretation have not been on display.

Nancy Nguyen of the Vietnamese organization Boat People SOS says volunteers will be out monitoring polling places during tomorrow’s primary election.

“We’re going to be trying to make sure that Asian voters are not being turned away from voting,” Nguyen said, “and that people are able to vote where they want to, without a language barrier.” 

Working with the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, Boat People SOS plans to visit polling locations in the Northeast, South Philadelphia and Chinatown, which all have high concentrations of Asian immigrant voters.

More than 50 percent of the community her organization serves are “limited-English proficient” or LEP.

The City of Philadelphia has requested an extension to respond to the complaint filed last month with the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission until after the primary.

In the meantime, there are no obvious signs to suggest that tomorrow’s election will be significantly different than previous ones.

“In my communications with poll workers, I have emphasized the process of using the cell phone for interpretation services and the importance of having the interpretation card visible,” City Commissioner Stephanie Singer said. Singer said she was not aware of any other changes in how the primary will be conducted stemming from the recent complaint.

Regarding the city’s response, she said, “to my knowledge there has been no discussion among the Commissioners or request [for information] by our legal counsel.”

Nguyen points out that one of the biggest obstacles in encouraging turnout comes way before anyone enters the polling place. For instance, she says she hasn’t been able to point voters to any information on the candidates on the ballot in their native language.

Nguyen is working on the creation of Asian-language candidate profiles, which she hopes to finish before the November election.

“The governor’s race in Pennsylvania is going to be critical for our community,” she said. “We’re really excited to be able to be part of pushing out the vote.”

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