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Clinton, Trump Win New York Chinatown Voters Amid Election Day Issues

Volunteers from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund conduct exit polling at PS 126 in Manhattan on April 20, 2016. Courtesy of AALDEF

Voters in New York City's Manhattan Chinatown favored Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in Tuesday's presidential primary, even as voting issues were reported across the city.

According to the NBC News exit poll, 68 percent of non-white Democratic voters chose Clinton over Sen. Bernie Sanders. In New York City's Chinatown and Lower East Side, voters picked Clinton over Sanders 54 percent to 43 percent, according to exit polling conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).

On the Republican side, the AALDEF exit poll data showed Donald Trump the GOP winner with 60 percent of the votes from respondents versus John Kasich and Ted Cruz, who each won 20 percent in the AALDEF exit poll. AALDEF sampled 513 voters in five polling places.

AALDEF volunteers at Confucius Plaza in Manhattan during New York's presidential primary April 19, 2016. Courtesy of AALDEF

AALDEF's election monitors in Manhattan also watched for polling irregularities as voters in the Chinatown district required two separate ballots — one for the presidential primary, the other for a special election to replace former state legislator Sheldon Silver, who was convicted on federal corruption charges last November.

"We want to make sure that voters that are eligible to vote in both, do in fact receive both ballots, " Jerry Vattamala, AALDEF's democracy program leader, told NBC News.

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Vattamala said the barriers to voting for Asian Americans can be great, making the monitoring of polls essential. Specific issues Vattamala mentioned included different naming conventions, names being inverted on voter rolls, spelling mistakes, and the presence of English nicknames. Asian-American voters are almost much more likely to be first-time voters, naturalized citizens, or have limited English proficiency, he said.

MinKwon Center volunteers phone banking during New York's presidential primary April 19, 2016. Courtesy of the MinKwon Center for Community Action

In the borough of Queens, one community organization reported a number of incidents involving new voters left off registration lists and forced to cast affidavits or provisional ballots.

"We've been seeing multiple instances of people who we assisted in registering, and hand delivered their applications to the New York City Board of Elections," James Hong, director of civic engagement for the MinKwon Center for Community Action based in Queens, told NBC News. "Of the hundreds we've registered recently, we have been spot checking, and some registrations have been simply lost. We also are seeing a lot of ethnic names being misspelled, sloppy data entry."

Hong was particularly concerned following reports that more than 125,000 voters in Brooklyn had been purged from the voter rolls by the borough's Board of Elections.

"It seems that is not the only problem — even new registrants are not making it onto the rolls," Hong said. "Our organizers are finding things like 'Min' being entered as 'Mir,' 'Chong' became 'Cheng.'"

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Hong said other partnering organizations, including one that assists the Nepalese community, were experiencing similar problems.

In an attempt to preempt election day issues, community organizations like Hong's had formed the non-partisan APA VOICE, which focused on voter registration and education services.

A Bengali voter guide distributed by APA VOICE ahead of the New York presidential primary April 19, 2016. Courtesy of Chhaya Community Development Corporation

The coalition effort included the mass mailing of voter guides in multiple Asian languages. One of the group's major priorities was letting people know the importance of affiliating with a party in order to vote in the primary. Hong said that the closed primary meant many Asian Americans had disenfranchised themselves by choosing no party affiliation.

But the strong pre-election effort wasn't able to eliminate all problems for new voters.

"We are concerned about voter suppression, and I think we are now seeing the fallout from the gutting of the Voting Rights Act through the Shelby decision back in 2013," Hong said. "We will be working with our coalition partners and AALDEF to address these incidents."

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AALDEF executive director Margaret Fung said that individual voter problems among Asian Americans were high.

"It could well be that the Board of Elections has failed to enter in all of the voter registration forms filed before the deadline, since many more Asian Americans and other New Yorkers registered so that they could vote in the presidential election," Fung told NBC News. "We've seen many examples of misspelled Asian names in voter rolls and have reported on that in past elections. But I would distinguish these voter registration problems (a bit more common) from the voter purge issue that seems to be getting bigger and more widespread."

The Issues

In the AALDEF exit poll, 38 percent of voters polled cited the economy and jobs as their most important issue followed by healthcare at 13 percent and education at 10 percent. A New York preview of an upcoming nation-wide survey by APIAVote, AAPI Data, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC found that gun control, health care, the economy, social security, and education were major issues to New York's Asian-American voters.

"Despite the efforts of the media to portray Asian Americans as living the American Dream, many Asian Americans are solidly working class and many live paycheck to paycheck," Nelson Mar, the head of a New York Chinese restaurant workers union and a Sanders supporter, told NBC News. "Many Asian Americans, especially those who reside in ethnic enclaves like Chinatown, are also dealing with rising housing costs and the threat of displacement/gentrification by wealthy landlords and developers for the one percent."

The APIAVote, AAPI Data, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC survey found that 67 percent of Asian-American voters surveyed in New York viewed Clinton favorably while 43 percent of voters surveyed had a favorable opinion of Sanders. Both candidates had similar unfavorable rates of 22 and 23 percent respectively, and 34 percent of those surveyed had not heard of or had no opinion on Sanders.

On the Republican side, 51 percent of surveyed Asian-American voters viewed Trump unfavorably, while 55 percent and 62 percent of surveyed voters had not heard of Cruz or Kasich respectively.

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