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Ballot parties in Chinese, Korean, Amharic

KUOW photo/Liz Jones
Chinese-American voter Lina Chi (right) gets translation help for her ballot.

Voter turnout in the U.S. tends to be relatively low among Asians and Latinos, especially those with limited English. In the Seattle area, a final push is underway to reach voters in their native languages.


Issaquah resident Lina Chi, 85, usually gets her son to help her vote. But this time, she headed to a ballot party at a library near Bellevue, where a volunteer walked her through the voter’s guide in Mandarin.

Interpreter: "Oh, okay. She says her son doesn’t give her such a good explanation, such in-depth explanations."

Chi: “Just says here, here, here.”

It took Chi and the interpreter about an hour to go down the ballot. She says she’ll happily do it again.

Interpreter: “She said that usually she doesn’t want to read all this because it’s so long, but now that she’s come this time she wants to read it in the future.”

The interpreter is May Lim, a community organizer with APACE. It’s a nonprofit that hosted this event and works to get more Asian-Americans engaged in politics.

Lim: “We face challenges with language barriers, lack of access to transportation and also a lack of voting culture within our communities and families. There's also a history of voter suppression for those who have been here for longer, and that's part of the reason we are trying to frame the right to vote as a positive and social activity for our communities.”

Vietnamese, Korean and other interpreters stand by at the party. Only a handful of people show up, which speaks to the challenge of efforts like this to get out the vote to limited-English speakers.

King County launched a pilot program this year to improve outreach. It gave money for community groups to host registration drives, candidate forums and ballot parties in various languages. Requests for non-English ballots shot up 60 percent this year.

For the first time, King County elections is also providing voting materials in Spanish and Korean. It's offered Chinese since 2002 and Vietnamese since 2012.

Woman: “Do you have this in Spanish?”

At the ballot party, a woman wanders in looking for Spanish materials. She gave her first name only, Angeles, and admits she’s not a very informed voter. Usually, she just checks the best-looking box.

Angeles: "Like here I’ll say, ‘I like this because it’s a woman.’ Then I go, ‘Oh, this has a Spanish name. I’ll go with her.’”

Angeles says she’d like to do better. She’s originally from Mexico and has lived in the U.S. 30 years. She speaks English fine. But she’d like to see the ballot in more straightforward language.

Lim hears that a lot.

Lim: “If you don’t know that language and jargon they use in the government jargon, it’s difficult to understand how to vote. But the fact that people are coming makes me hopeful. It’s not because they don’t want to know, it’s that they haven’t had the chance to.”

And more chances exist, Lim says. It’s just a matter of getting the word out, ideally before Election Day.


Friday, Nov. 4, 5 p.m. NewHolly Election 2016 Voting Party. (Amharic, Cantonese, Cham, Khmer, Mandarin, Oromo, Somali, Tagalog, Tigrinya, and Vietnamese)

Saturday, Nov. 5, 11 a.m. South Park Ballot Party (Spanish)

Sunday, November 6, 2 p.m. Federal Way Ballot Party (Spanish)

Monday, Nov. 7, 4 p.m. Chinatown/ID Neighborhood Ballot Party (Cantonese, Mandarin)

Year started with KUOW: 2006