In N.J.’s Korean Enclaves, Spotty Services for Korean Voters

Despite efforts to make last week’s primary election process accessible for the massive Korean population of Bergen County, N.J., Korean-Americans complained that translation services were spotty in some places and nonexistent in others, the Korea Daily reported. Bergen County, N.J. has the highest Korean-American population of any county in the United States, and includes Palisades Park, a borough where more than half the population is Asian, and 44 percent is Korean, according to the 2010 Census. The article is translated below.

Empty polling station in Palisades Park (Photo by Seunghoon Jung / Korea Daily)

In the primary elections at Bergen County in June 5, New Jersey’s [Korean] voters and experts gave the process a failing grade.

“The County Election Commission said that it paid careful attention to this primary election for immigrants,” said Jejin Park, a lawyer at Korean American Civic Empowerment, which performed exit polls in four districts of Fort Lee and Palisades Park. “However, in reality, the process left much to be desired.”

First of all, the Korean version of the Bill of Rights was problematic. In the polling station at Lindbergh Elementary School, the two-page English version of the Bill of Rights was correct. However, the Spanish and Korean versions were appalling. The problem was that the first page was in Spanish and the second page was in Korean.

“It seemed like ‘Don’t vote’ to me,” said one Korean voter. “I felt like I was being ignored.”

In addition, in some polling locations, Korean polling station workers who could provide Korean language services were not arranged. In the polling location at Fort Lee School No. 1, there was no Korean election official, so some Korean voters came but were unable to vote.

“I got word that some polls in Bergen County didn’t have Korean election officials,” said Dongchan Kim, a representative of KACE. “I will make a strong protest about this issue after voting.”

◆ Low Korean vote rate
Even though Korean services were provided for the first time in a primary election, Korean Americans’ voting rate was low. At Lindbergh Elementary School, in Palisades Park, only 104 people, less than one sixth of the area’s 648 registered Korean-Americans, voted.

“Especially voters in their twenties and forties were barely seen,” one Korean election official said.

In contrast, the voting rate of Korean-American senior citizens was relatively high. In the polling place at a senior center in Palisades Park, one older Korean man visited other seniors’ apartments individually and encouraged them to vote.

“In the senior center poll, about 24 percent of the entire Korean-American population participated,” said a representative of KACE.

◆ Many Korean-Americans unaware of election rules
Organizers pointed out that many Korean-Americans were not aware of the primary’s rules. There were significant numbers of people who were not registered with a political party, or who didn’t register as voters. Moreover, some didn’t recognize which party they were registered with, and even asked why they should vote for the candidates of that party.

◆ An incoherent policy for changing party membership
According to KACE, it was possible for voters to switch to another party if they received the appropriate application before the vote. However, in the same cases, voters became confused, and as a result were disenfranchised.


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