Dona Kim Murphey volunteered for the first time this year as a Korean-language interpreter, helping out at an early voting day in late October in Harris County, Texas. But Murphey said she and others were told to remain beyond a 100-foot line outside the polling center after assisting some voters with their ballots. An election worker, she said, had grown concerned that a group of Korean-American high school students greeting voters may have been electioneering. “She was worried that we were and couldn’t confirm that we weren’t, other than to go by our word,” Murphey said. While some experienced issues on Election Day like broken machines, voter confusion and long lines, others faced obstacles in getting language assistance.
At issue was a Georgia state law requiring interpreters to be either registered voters in the same precinct or eligible family members. Because federal candidates appeared on the Nov. 6 ballot, federal law gave Kwon and other voters wider latitude in whom they could choose to translate for them.
That, in turn, caused confusion for some poll workers about which rules to follow, alleges a federal suit brought on Nov. 29 by Advancing Justice-Atlanta and others.
Following a delay, the Kwons got to vote with their interpreter. And a day after the lawsuit was filed, Georgia Secretary of State Robyn A. Crittenden settled and agreed not to enforce the state’s more restrictive language assistance law in future elections, including a run-off that took place in early December.