Asian-American Voters Hit Snags in NY Congressional Primary

Image: Members of the New York police guard an entrance at a polling station as voting opened for the New York primary elections in the Manhattan borough of New York City
A polling station in New York City, April 19, 2016.ANDREW KELLY / Reuters

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By Chris Fuchs

Asian Americans were among those who encountered snags voting at New York City polling sites during Tuesday’s congressional primary, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).

Jerry Vattamala, director of AALDEF’s democracy program, told NBC News the mix-ups that his organization’s poll monitors observed generally centered on alleged poll worker error, including voters receiving the wrong type of ballot or being provided inaccurate information such as where to vote.

The city Board of Elections did not immediately return a request for comment.

AALDEF visited five polling sites in Manhattan’s Chinatown and three in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Vattamala said, where voters cast ballots in New York’s 7th Congressional District primary. U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) fended off two challengers for that seat, picking up roughly 62 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the city Board of Elections.

"It really makes you wonder how many voters are being disenfranchised or not having their votes counted when they go through all these hurdles that are not necessary and that make it harder to vote.”

Yungman Lee, a Chinatown businessman, came in second with 28 percent of the vote and Jeffrey Kurzon, an attorney, placed third with 10 percent, the results showed.

The district, which slices through parts of Queens, Lower Manhattan, and Brooklyn, bore the brunt of an errant purge last summer that erased at least 120,000 names from voter rolls ahead of the state’s presidential primary in April. Asian Americans make up around 20 percent of the district and Hispanics 41 percent, according to the U.S. Census.

At several 7th Congressional District polling sites in Manhattan, voters were told they needed to fill out affidavit ballots, but were incorrectly handed regular ballots with an affidavit envelope, Vattamala said. Although the two ballots look similar, a regular ballot is scanned at the polling site, while an affidavit ballot is later examined by city Board of Elections officials to determine if it counts, Vattamala said.

RELATED: Hispanics, Asian Americans Among Most Purged Voters in New York City: Analysis

Voters can request an affidavit ballot if their name is not on the poll list.

Had the mistakes not been caught and the voters put the completed regular ballot inside an affidavit envelope, their vote wouldn’t have counted, Vattamala said.

In Brooklyn, one Chinese-American voter, aided by an interpreter, had difficulty completing an affidavit envelope in English, Vattamala said. The clerk believed there weren’t any Chinese-language envelopes, Vattamala said, so AALDEF observers suggested he look in a cabinet, where he found an unopened stack.

In another alleged mishap, a 92-year-old Chinese-American voter who walked into her Brooklyn polling site with a cane was told by the information clerk that she was at the wrong location and would have to travel two more avenue blocks to get to the right polling site, Vattamala said.

The woman told workers she had voted at the site before and that her name should be on the rolls, Vattamala said. She asked if she could check the voter list, and she found her name, Vattamala said.

“It really makes you wonder how many voters are being disenfranchised or not having their votes counted when they go through all these hurdles that are not necessary and that make it harder to vote,” Vattamala said.

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