LOCALIZE IT: Voting assistance targeted by new criminal penalties, severely impacting Asian voters

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EDITORS/NEWS DIRECTORS:

Republicans in at least six states, including Florida, Georgia and Texas, have enacted voting laws since 2021 that created or boosted rules with consequences — including the potential for jail time and fines— for individuals and groups that assist voters. The laws have sowed fear and confusion among groups that provide translators, voter registration help, and assistance with mail-in balloting, roles that voting rights advocates say are vital for Asian communities in particular. Language barriers already hamper access to the ballot in a number of states for a population that has been growing rapidly. Asian, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander populations grew 35% between 2010 and 2020, according to Census data.

The laws are seen by many voting groups as a form of voter suppression and intimidation and several are facing legal challenges.

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AP’S LATEST COVERAGE:

Asian Americans feel particularly targeted by new laws criminalizing those who assist voters

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STATES THAT HAVE ENACTED THESE KINDS OF RESTRICTIVE LAWS

The Voting Rights Lab tracks election legislation around the country. This link also includes bills in other states that may improve voter access:

Florida (A federal judge blocked parts of this law this week)

Georgia

Kansas

Mississippi

South Carolina

Texas (See also HB 1243, which is not listed in the Voting Rights Lab list)

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CONSIDER THESE REPORTING AVENUES

Reach out to attorneys about the election laws in relevant states to make sure that good faith mistakes would be acknowledged under the provisions and how the criminal penalties and fines have changed since the laws were first introduced.

Reach out to voting rights groups to get their point of view and connections to the communities they serve. Actual voter perspective is important to know how these laws will impact them. Will the laws change their intention to vote?

Have the laws changed how translators and people who help voters vote do their jobs? How have the laws changed the get-out-the-vote strategies for voting rights advocates? For example, the League of Women Voters in Florida had initially changed their strategy to register voters before the Florida law took effect July 1. Also, Alice Yi, who is Chinese American, used to help translate in Austin, Texas but said the new law isn’t clear about whether good-faith mistakes will be criminalized and worries that she could get into trouble by offering assistance. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill in June that raises the penalty for illegal voting to a felony, upping it from a misdemeanor that was part of a sweeping elections law passed two years earlier. Advocates like Yi worry that helping voters who may have limited English proficiency and aren’t sure if they can vote legally could lead to felony charges.

If your state isn’t among the six listed here that have passed stricter election laws, consider reaching out to legislators and voting groups in your state to get a sense of whether these kinds of laws are a concern or have been discussed.

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PUBLISHABLE CONTEXT

Several of the laws that impose new or expanded criminal penalties and lofty fines are facing legal challenges from voting rights organizations for varying reasons.

Florida’s legislation would have imposed a $50,000 fine on third-party voter registration organizations if the staff or volunteers who handle or collect the forms have been convicted of a felony or are not U.S. citizens. Advocates filed a lawsuit against the noncitizen provision, claiming that it would harm trustworthy bonds built with marginalized voters, especially in Asian American and Asian immigrant communities.

A federal judge blocked the provision this week.

Georgia lawmakers also overhauled its state’s election laws. A section of Georgia’s 2021 election bill made it a misdemeanor to offer a voter any money or gifts at polling places, a provision that included passing out water and snacks for those waiting in long lines.

Attempts to get the snack-and-water ban tossed out have so far been unsuccessful.

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ADDITIONAL AP COVERAGE

— Justice Dept. settles with New Jersey county over ballot languages, highlighting widespread barrier

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Cover Photo: A roll of “I Voted!” stickers are shown, Oct. 6, 2020, at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department in Doral, Fla. Several new voting laws in mostly Republican-led states impose criminal penalties or fines for helping people register to vote. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

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