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Latino, Asian Voters Get Extra County Help

More languages and polling places are added in voter outreach effort. But problems remain.

October 29, 2002|Vivian LeTran and Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writers

Orange County has overhauled its voter outreach program, adding polling places and more languages and bilingual workers since the March primary election. The move came after the U.S. Census recorded a surge in Latino and Asian populations in the county.

The Orange County registrar of voters has added more than 300 polling sites and hired 1,000 bilingual poll workers for the Nov. 5 election, officials said. Officials have also increased the stipend to $70 in an effort to lure more of them.

"We were not doing a good job of getting poll workers to show up at the polls," especially bilingual workers, said Registrar Rosalyn Lever.

The agency's effort come after officials reviewed results from the 2000 census released earlier this year. The census documented growing enclaves of Latinos, Vietnamese, Chinese and Koreans in Orange County. In the last decade, the county's Latino population grew by 46% and now accounts for at least 28% of Orange County's 2.8 million residents. The number of Asian Americans rose by 63% -- mostly Vietnamese, Chinese and Koreans -- and now make up at least 14% of the population.

The changes by the registrar are in line with mandates by the California secretary of state that require counties to make voting more accessible to all ethnic and racial groups .

On Nov. 5, Orange County will add 288 Spanish bilingual polling places. About 50 more bilingual polling sites were assigned for other languages, particularly Vietnamese. But finding committed poll workers there is not easy, Lever said.

When it comes to Spanish-speaking voters, the county has a different problem. There are many volunteers in central Orange County, but not enough in newer Latino areas such as San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and Rancho Santa Margarita.

For the first time, the county is adding Korean and Chinese language ballots, at a cost of about $500,000.

Critics say that though the changes have merit, the registrar has not corrected previous problems, such as bad translations and tardy voter information.

A Latino civic organization has even requested that the Orange County Grand Jury investigate what they say are persistent problems in the agency.

Amin David, chairman of Los Amigos of Orange County, said a member of his group asked for sample ballots in Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese on Oct. 7, the day absentee voting began for the general election. The member was told none were available, David said.

"With every passing day, the voting rights of thousands of Orange Countians in these language communities are being impaired," David wrote in a letter to the grand jury dated Oct. 11.

Assistant Registrar Suzanne Slupsky said the sample ballots take time to translate. They were available in early October, but Slupsky did not say what day they were sent out.

Vietnamese voters also have complained about their election materials.

During the March primary, voter pamphlets with Vietnamese translations had nontraditional idioms, misspelled words, improper accent marks and were so vague that the information was nearly impossible to understand, voter groups complained.

"The words looked like Vietnamese, but they have no meaning. It's nonsense. The people they used to translate didn't use the right terms and expressions," said Vietnamese American Voters Coalition director Chuyen V. Nguyen, who complained formally to Lever's office following the March primary.

"There's no quality control with the Vietnamese translation," Nguyen said.

For the November ballot, Nguyen said, translations are better but still have problems.

For example, on voter registration forms which ask, "Are you a U.S. citizen?" the Vietnamese version of "yes" and "no" are misspelled and have improper accent marks, he said.

Lever said more bilingual poll workers will be in place to help Vietnamese-speakers -- and Spanish speakers.

"Voting can be a daunting task, especially for first time voters who don't speak fluent English," said community activist Linh Nguyen, 54. "With so many measures and propositions, voters need to have someone who speaks their language to come and ask questions. Having more bilingual poll workers is a step in the right direction."

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