Yesterday morning, while the internet was abuzz about getting out the vote, I was preparing myself for poll monitoring to help protect voters’ rights and voters’ language access at the polls. Advancing Justice-LA sent over 100 individuals out in southern California to monitor about 220 precincts. This year is my second time volunteering with Advancing Justice-LA as a poll monitor and doing so in my hometown of Diamond Bar, California. The experience filled me with hope and pride.
Diamond Bar is a minority-majority suburb in Los Angeles County. That means the majority of the residents are Asian and Asian American. I had always felt it was a boring city, too focused on fulfilling its own model minority stereotype to care about civic engagement. In high school, I was becoming very political and really felt that I was an exceptional Asian American to care about my country more than I cared about my grades. As if my peers and their parents were all apathetic about civics.
After seeing yesterday’s turnout, I realized how wrong I was.
I saw a surge of Asian American voters turn out for a midterm election, something that high school me would have never expected to happen.
My experience at the polls was, overall, calm. Mostly, I was impressed by how communal the voting experience was. Throughout the day, I saw families come together to vote together and support each other.
A couple came in wearing matching fanny packs, finishing their morning walks with an exercise in civic engagement, holding Chinese-language vote-by-mail ballots in their hands. One gentleman brought his teenage daughter. He walked her through the voting experience and made her watch him vote. As they left, the poll worker said to them, “good job leading by example!”
There were only a few hiccups in the morning.
At my second stop, I accidentally went to the wrong precinct to check in (it happens; there can be multiple precincts at one location). The lead poll worker was frantically flipping through papers when I introduced myself. He asked, “Can you help me?”
It turns out that there was a man who wanted to register to vote. “Can he even do that?” the poll worker asked. Yes, he can! In California, you can do same-day voter registration. I told the voter to wait while I rushed to find out how he does that.
Starting this year, Californians could do same-day voter registration. In Los Angeles County, that meant individuals could go to early voting locations that are sprinkled throughout the region to register and vote on the same day. The voter actually waited patiently outside for me as I called my Voting Rights colleagues to get the correct information. I felt like a hero when I told him where he could go to register and vote.
While I mostly didn’t encounter any big issues, it felt like language accessibility was an afterthought. At one location, I noticed that they were missing a sign indicating they offer Tagalog language assistance. When I asked the lead worker about this, she responded, “we only display these signs if we have bilingual workers.” At which point another poll worker meekly raised his hand and announced that he speaks Tagalog.
At the polling sites, I saw some people dropping off vote-by-mail ballots in Chinese and Korean envelopes. But, despite seeing so many Asian Americans, I did not see any person speak to a bilingual poll worker. This isn’t to say that any of these people needed language assistance, but the point is: did they even know that it was an option?
The highlight of my day was seeing the pride on voters’ faces once they fed their votes into the ballot box/voter machine and received their “I Voted” stickers. That never gets old.
Before I left Diamond Bar for the day, I dropped by my parents’ house. My mom had just come back from their polling spot and talked about the long lines. My dad was still at the kitchen counter, studying his ballot intently. They’ve come a long way from practicing the pledge of allegiance in the living room. In the 20+ years that they’ve been citizens, they’ve never missed a chance to vote.
The truth is that Asian America has always been a force to be reckoned with, no matter what I thought in high school. We’re the fastest growing minority group in the country and are already demonstrating our influence at the polls.
There are so many other immigrants like my parents who are ready to make a difference through voting. We have to continue to ensure that they have the resources they need at the polls to make their voices heard.
I am incredibly proud of how my community showed up, but there’s still more work we can do to protect their voting rights and expand language access at the polls.
By: Jessica Jinn, Communications Director