King County will hire two persons in the elections office to provide outreach and language assistance in Chinese (i.e. Cantonese) to facilitate voter registration and balloting among limited English proficiency Chinese in the county.

The elections office is recruiting for a permanent Bilingual Voter Outreach Coordinator and a temporary bilingual Chinese administrative worker, announced Terry Denend, Assistant Manager of the Records, Elections, and Licensing Services Division.

“This is a milestone, a major step in the County’s obligation to provide limited English speaking Chinese in the area with an equal opportunity to vote,” said Mei-ling Hsu, Greater Seattle Chapter President of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA). “It’s what democracy is all about,” she added.

Earlier this year, OCA—along with the Chinese Information and Service Center, Chinese/Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, Japanese American Citizens League and ROAR (Raising Our Asian Pacific American Representation)—made a number of recommendations to King County Records, Licensing and Elections on Section 203 compliance. Foremost among the recommendations was the hiring of two Chinese bi-lingual workers in the Elections Section who would do outreach to the Chinese community in addition to providing language assistance.

It is crucial for the County to have bi-lingual staff to conduct outreach to the LEP Chinese population in the county to fully comply with the intent of the Voting Rights Act and to get them registered to vote and to vote, said Debbie Hsu, CISC staff member and OCA board member who worked with the County on Section 203 issues for over a year. “We will work with the Elections Office to design an outreach program that effectively communicates with Chinese immigrants of voting age in the region,” she said.

A 1994 report by the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (NAPALC), based in Southern California, attributed Section 203 voter outreach efforts for a 31 percent increase in voter turnout among Chinese in New York City and a 14 percent increase among Chinese in San Francisco.

King County and its subdivisions, including school districts and port authority, are required to provide voting material and language assistance in Chinese (i.e. Cantonese) under the provisions of Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act.

Voting material means registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials of information relating to the electoral process, including regular and absentee ballots, candidates qualifying poll place notices, sample ballots and voter information pamphlets.

As amended in 1992, Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act mandates voting material and language assistance in a minority language when there are more than 10,000 citizens of a single language minority of voting age with limited English proficiency. In early 2002, the federal Department of Justice notified King County that the Chinese met that benchmark according to the 2000 Census.

While the creation of Chinese bi-lingual positions to provide language assistance and outreach was seen as a step in the right direction, Asian American community organizations working on voting rights and registration plan to step up their initiatives even further. OCA will continue to work cooperatively with the County Elections Office, said Mei-ling Hsu, regarding Chinese language assistance and outreach to get citizens registered to vote and to actually vote. “We envision Section 203 compliance as a major item for our chapter over the next few years,” she added.

With a small grant for NAPALC for community activity on Section 203 in King County, CISC will help train poll monitors and conduct voter registration and voting campaigns, and ROAR will help collect and compile census and voter registration data on Asian Americans to increase voter registration and voter turnout.

Meanwhile, King County Executive Ron Sims submitted an election reform package to the Metropolitan King County Council. The package, which will be considered by the full County Council in late July, includes some $205,000 for translation services, printing, and Chinese translations on the County’s web site.

In addition to the elections reform package, the Council’s Labor, Operations, and Technology Committee recently recommended creation of a King County Citizens’ Election Oversight Committee. Proposed by Council member Jane Hague, a nine-member panel would monitor the fall elections and make recommendations on how to improve the performance of the Elections Division, which had major problems providing absentee ballots in the last two county elections.

If approved by the full Council, the Oversight Committee could be established in time for this fall’s elections. Committee members would include one representative from the Municipal League of King County, the League of Women Voters, the King County Democratic Party, the King County Republican Party, the Office of the Secretary of State and a King County school district and three King County citizens appointed by the County Executive.

At the urging of OCA, one of the three citizens could be someone who would watchdog the County’s requirement to provide Chinese language material and assistance under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act.

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