Volunteer translators kicked out of voting location after confusion at Houston poll

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- At only nine days away from midterm elections, a voter and translator are speaking out after a misunderstanding at a Houston voting poll.

Volunteers with the Korean American Voters League say they organized Sunday as a special day of early voting, with Korean translators at the Trini Mendenhall polling site on Wirt.

"They work hard as Americans, they build our community. What they want to do is participate in the political system. They want to vote," said the president of the league Hyunja Norman.

On Sunday, the translators say they were forced out of the polling site by a worker.

"Some Korean elders came out and the students greeted them and said some things in Korean and she (election judge) got very upset and said 'you can't speak in another language here that we don't understand because that could be electioneering,'" said volunteer Dona Kim Murphey.

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Then, she says, deputy constables showed up. "The poll workers are deciding to call law enforcement on translators. That's absurd. It's intimidating and absolutely voter suppression," said Kim Murphey.

The county clerk's administrator of elections, Sonya Aston, says translators are provided in Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese based on census numbers. But she adds, anyone may bring their own interpreter into the polls but that person assisting must take an oath before helping.

Aston also says volunteer translators may not solicit voters inside. They can only approach and ask if help is needed if they are outside and beyond the 100-foot perimeter from the front door. But volunteers fear not everyone will be reached.

"We are waving our hands, flailing to get people's attention as they approach the entrance hoping they see us so we can provide them with Korean translation services," said Kim-Murphey.

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