DETROIT — In an election already marred by provisional
ballot challenges, numerous reports of voter discrimination from
nonpartisan poll monitoring groups underline the possible flaws in
the nation’s voting systems.

Further impeding the voting process were accounts from student
polling volunteers who said that ballot challengers were
intimidating voters, signifying how fierce partisanship of the
election permeated polling sites.

Racial slurs from election workers, missing bilingual ballots
and unwarranted demands to check voter identification turned away
Asian American voters across the nation, according to reports by
the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Learning from the lessons of the 2000 election, Margaret Fung,
executive director of the legal fund, said the organization
prepared for possible breakdowns at polling sites by taking
measures such as contacting polling sites with records of voter
discrimination to ensure they had language interpreters and
provisional ballots on hand.

Despite their efforts, Fung said their exit polls of Asian
Americans in eight states indicated widespread instances of voter
discrimination, leaving many of the voters feeling disenfranchised.
Refusals by election officials to provide provisional ballots and
voters directed to the wrong polling locations were just some of
the incidents that hampered the Asian American vote.

“There were racist remarks in New York City — poll
workers were blaming them for holding up the lines. One of them
said, ‘You Oriental guys are taking too long to vote,’
” she said.

Although the legal fund continues to tally its exiting poll
surveys and has no firm estimate for the number of incidents, Fung
said repeated requests from poll workers to check identification
hindered the high turnout of Asian American voters.

With their patience worn thin by the inadequacy of their voting
site, many simply left without voting, she said.

“At this point, I don’t know if this had any effect
on the election, but the process still needs to be fixed since
it’s showing that it still can prevent people (from
exercising) their vote,” Fung said.

A polling site at Cleveland Middle School in Detroit suffered
some of the same difficulties, as the site had no translated
ballots for Arabic speakers and lacked any interpreters. Election
officer Susie Johnson said she could only resort to explaining
slowly to non-English speaking voters how to vote.

“We just keep repeating what’s on the ballot until
they understand,” she added.

Many non-English speaking voters managed to submit the ballot,
though, with their family members functioning as interpreters.

But in other polling sites across Detroit, University student
volunteers monitoring the polling sites said they not only
encountered deficient polling sites, but also challengers from the
Republican Party deliberately aiming to drive voters away through
tactics of intimidation.

“It was quiet in some places, but in other places there
was faulty election machinery and attempts by challengers to
intimidate voters, and challengers at some points had to be
physically removed by the police,” said LSA senior Ryan
Bates, an electoral organizer with the grassroots community group
Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength.

Of the Republican challengers at his polling location, Bates
said all three were from Texas and intentionally hid their
credentials in order to create the appearance that they were
election officials. He added that they then intimidated voters by
looming over them when casting ballots and interfering with their
paper work, he added.

“At one point, there was a problem where a women’s
ballot was spoiled, and she asked the challenger if she could have
another one. And with a direct quote from the challenger,
‘This isn’t Afghanistan, you don’t get to vote
twice here,’ ” Bates said.

Republicans have said their challengers monitor the elections to
prevent voter fraud, and they sued Detroit officials Tuesday for
allegedly barring some challengers from the polls.

Even with the end of election day, problems with the voting
system still seem to be cropping up everywhere.

Starting her day of work in the morning at the U Club in the
Union yesterday, LSA senior Rita Schiesser said her manager found
an interesting surprise when he opened the restaurant.

“He found two metal boxes with ballots in them. …
There were about 1,700 ballots in them,” she said.

The ballots were picked up by the Ann Arbor City Clerk’s
office after her manager informed them, but Schiesser said she can
only imagine how many ballot boxes are just waiting to be
found.

The clerk’s office was unable to comment on the forgotten
ballots.

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