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Wednesday, October 30, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mixed results in outreach to Chinese voters

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

King County elections officials made a good first effort following a U.S. Justice Department order to help Chinese-speaking voters at the polls, but there's room for improvement, according to poll monitors for Chinese-American organizations.

Polling places lacked signs in Chinese telling people where to vote and that Chinese ballots were available. Voters pamphlets put announcements about Chinese ballots on the third page, not on the cover. And several election workers told monitors they objected to providing non-English ballots, according to a report issued this week.

"These are some of the barriers that still exist," said Debbie Hsu of the Organization of Chinese Americans, which released the report.

Election officials said they are already working to improve outreach and educate poll workers. If an election worker makes disparaging remarks on the job about Chinese-language ballots, "that person will not be a poll worker any longer," said Bob Roegner, manager of the King County division that conducts elections.

"This has been an enormous undertaking," he said. "I think we've done well. I think we can do better."

All sides vowed to work harder to reach Chinese-speaking voters, after just 24 Chinese ballots were returned during the primary.

There were no instances of Chinese speakers being turned away at the polls, Hsu said. But poll monitors found few navigational tools to help people find their way through the process.

Nora Chan, who works with Chinese-American seniors in Seattle's International District, said many elderly people didn't see the notice in the voters pamphlet alerting them to Chinese ballots. After glancing at a front page all in English, many threw them out thinking there was nothing they could understand, she said.

Notice of the new federal requirements came so late there wasn't time to change the pamphlet's cover, said elections superintendent Julie Anne Kempf.

In the general election, bilingual pamphlets will be sent to everyone in several Seattle legislative districts with large Chinese-American populations — the 11th, 37th and part of the 43rd District. Chinese writing will appear on their front pages.

Outside those districts, people can request pamphlets and absentee ballots in Chinese.

The new language requirements were triggered by the federal Voting Rights Act when King County's population of voting-age Chinese American citizens speaking little English topped 10,000. There are 10,535 in the county, the 2000 census found.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com.

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