OAKLAND -- Voters who speak Chinese or Spanish and have a hard time understanding English are supposed to get extra help at the polls in Alameda County, but a group of poll monitors says the county could be doing a better job.

"Compared to the other counties we observed, Alameda County was the worst performing of the four," said Christopher Punongbayan, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus.

On Election Day, poll monitors working with the caucus and other organizations visited 230 polling sites across the Bay Area, including 75 in Alameda County.

The federal Voting Rights Act requires that alternative-language ballots and other assistance be provided if either 5 percent of a county's adult citizen population, or at least 10,000 adult citizens, belong to a language minority -- in other words, a large group of people speak the same language but have limited proficiency in English.

In California, the bar that triggers the required assistance is lower. If 3 percent of the population is monolingual in a language other than English, assistance must be provided to that group.

In Alameda County, ballots must be available in Chinese and Spanish. Contra Costa County also must provide Spanish ballots. In the Bay Area, Santa Clara County has the most languages covered by the federal civil rights law: Spanish, Chinese, Filipino (Tagalog) and Vietnamese.


Advertisement

Volunteer poll monitors visited mostly Asian-American neighborhoods in Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties on Nov. 2 to see how they were complying with the federal and state laws. They did not visit Contra Costa.

At a fire station in Millbrae, voters were forced to show proof of identity to vote, the monitors said. California does not require identification documents.

At a Union City voting site on Bel Aire Street, the monitors found no Chinese or Spanish ballots in a precinct where 16 percent of all registered voters are Chinese-American and 19 percent are Latino, the monitors said.

There also weren't any bilingual materials available at a church site on Union City's Peace Terrace, where 19 percent of the precinct's voters are Chinese-American.

And in Oakland, volunteer poll monitor Rosyln Wang witnessed "a lot of confusion going on," and a few voters apparently turned away because of a lack of Chinese ballots on 21st Street.

Punongbayan said the monitors repeatedly contacted county elections officials during Election Day, but never got any response from Alameda County.

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters could not be reached for comment this week.

A spokesman said the registrar was frantically trying to complete the election and could not provide an informed response on the study until the election is certified later this month.