New Laws Criminalizing Voter Assistance Specifically Target Asian Americans

by Madison Thomas
voter assistance

In recent times, the League of Women Voters in Florida has built strong connections with marginalized communities by assisting them in voter registration, including the growing Asian American and Asian immigrant populations. However, a new state law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in May has threatened to disrupt their efforts.

The legislation would have compelled the organization to change its strategy. It imposed a $50,000 fine on third-party voter registration groups if their staff or volunteers who handle or collect registration forms have a felony conviction or are not U.S. citizens.

Although a federal judge has blocked this provision, its enactment reflects the ongoing efforts by DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, and other GOP leaders to restrict access to voting. Florida is among at least six states, including Georgia and Texas, where Republicans have implemented voting regulations since 2021, imposing criminal penalties and fines on individuals and organizations that assist voters. Many of these laws are currently facing legal challenges.

As a result, voting rights advocates are compelled to rapidly adapt to this changing landscape. Prior to the ruling in Florida, the League of Women Voters had already begun using online links and QR codes for outreach. However, this shift from personal interactions to digital tools is likely to create a technological barrier, hindering their ability to reach as many people, particularly Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters.

Leah Nash, the Executive Director, expressed concern about limited language access, stating that they cannot reach as many people, which significantly affects AAPI voters. In Florida, more than 30% of AAPI adults have limited English proficiency, making it crucial for organizations like the League of Women Voters to establish personal connections rather than solely relying on websites or QR codes.

These stricter penalties in several states have generated fear and confusion among groups that provide translation services, voter registration assistance, and support for mail-in voting. These roles are particularly vital for Asian communities, which already face language barriers that impede their access to the ballot. Census data indicates that Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations have grown by 35% between 2010 and 2020. Consequently, many voting groups perceive these new laws, predominantly enacted by Republican-led states, as a form of voter suppression.

Meredyth Yoon, the litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta, highlights that these laws specifically target voters with limited English proficiency, including AAPI voters. Yoon argues that the record turnout for the 2020 elections in Georgia influenced the Republican-dominated legislature to pass extensive voter restrictions, suggesting that it was not merely a coincidence.

Texas, for example, witnessed Governor Greg Abbott signing a bill in June that escalated the penalty for illegal voting to a felony, up from a misdemeanor charge introduced in a comprehensive election law two years prior. The vague language of the new law has left individuals like Alice Yi, who used to assist with translation in Austin, Texas, concerned about the potential criminalization of good faith mistakes and hesitant to offer assistance. Yi recounts an incident during the 2022 primary election when a Vietnamese American man, who did not speak English and had never voted before, approached her seeking help. She immediately worried about the consequences of assisting him and fears similar situations in the future.

Although faced with the threat of jail time, voting rights advocate Ashley Cheng, also from Austin, remains committed to reaching Asian voters. Cheng, the founding president of Asian Texans for Justice, discovered that her mother was not properly registered in 2018 when she attempted to help her vote. This experience highlighted the flaws in the system and emphasized the essential role of volunteers in overcoming these obstacles.

Research conducted by Cheng’s group found that approximately two-thirds of Asian voters in Texas were highly motivated to vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Despite the challenges, Cheng’s personal motivation stems from the desire to ensure that the voices of the Asian diaspora in Texas are heard and their votes counted.

Texas attorney Farha Ahmed, on the other hand, made the decision to step away from her role as an election judge due to the increased liability involved in assisting marginalized communities in accessing the ballot box. Ahmed, residing in Sugarland near Houston, highlights the lack of resources and protection available to election judges who want to facilitate voting but are unsure of their liability under the new laws.

Prior to Florida and Texas, Georgia had already overhauled its election laws in 2021. Among the provisions, a section of the bill made it a misdemeanor offense to offer voters money or gifts at polling places, including providing water and snacks to those waiting in lines. Attempts to challenge the ban on snacks and water in court have thus far been unsuccessful.

James Woo, the communications director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, now refrains from even offering his parents a drink of water while assisting them with their ballots due to the ambiguity of the law. He acknowledges that simple acts of assistance that would have previously been considered normal may now be viewed as potentially illegal.

This report was contributed to by Mike Schneider, a writer for Big Big News in Orlando, Florida.

Coverage of race and voting by Big Big News is supported by the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. For more information about AP’s democracy initiative, please click here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about voter assistance

What are the new laws mentioned in the text?

The new laws referred to in the text are state-level regulations that impose criminal penalties and fines on individuals and organizations that assist voters. These laws have been enacted in several Republican-led states, including Florida, Texas, and Georgia.

How do these new laws impact Asian Americans?

These new laws disproportionately affect Asian Americans, particularly those with limited English proficiency. The Asian American population has been growing rapidly, and language barriers already pose challenges to accessing the ballot. These laws create additional barriers and increase fear and confusion among groups that provide translation services, voter registration assistance, and support for mail-in voting.

How have voting rights advocates responded to these new laws?

Voting rights advocates have been forced to quickly adapt to the changing environment. Organizations like the League of Women Voters have started using digital tools such as online links and QR codes for outreach. However, this shift to digital platforms removes the personal connection with communities, potentially hindering their ability to reach as many people, especially AAPI voters.

Are these new laws facing any legal challenges?

Yes, several of these new laws are currently facing legal challenges. In the case of Florida, a federal judge has blocked a provision that would have imposed fines on third-party voter registration organizations. Legal challenges are crucial in addressing concerns about voter suppression and protecting the rights of marginalized communities.

How are individuals directly involved in voter assistance affected by these new laws?

Individuals involved in voter assistance, such as translators and volunteers, face increased liability and uncertainty due to these new laws. They are concerned about potential criminalization for good faith mistakes or offering assistance to voters. This fear may deter them from providing essential support to marginalized communities in accessing the ballot.

What is the impact of these laws on voter turnout and the democratic process?

These laws are seen by many as a form of voter suppression, specifically targeting communities with limited English proficiency, including AAPI voters. By creating stricter penalties and barriers to voter assistance, these laws can deter individuals from exercising their right to vote, potentially undermining voter turnout and the democratic process.

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Vote4Freedom July 8, 2023 - 1:25 am

omg, this is a serious issue. the language barriers are already a problem, and now these new laws are making it even worse. it’s like they don’t want everyone to have a voice. it’s so frustrating!

VoterRightsAdvocate July 8, 2023 - 4:05 am

This is an alarming development. These new laws pose a significant threat to voter assistance and access to the ballot. It’s crucial to fight against voter suppression and ensure that all citizens can exercise their right to vote.

JohnSmith82 July 8, 2023 - 6:21 am

wow, these laws really suck! it’s unfair how they’re targeting asian americans. this will make it harder for them to vote and exercise their rights. not cool, man!


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