My experience with voter intimidation

The+KA+Voice+students+and+supervisor+preparing+to+help+translate+for+Korean+voters

Won Jung Park

The KA Voice students and supervisor preparing to help translate for Korean voters

By Enoch Kim, Neuqua Valley High School

My name is Enoch Kim. I’m like most of you- I’m an 18 year old Korean-American senior that likes writing, hates waking up early for school and loves playing copious amounts of League of Legends (yes, I’m one of those people).

I’m part of a grassroots organization called KA VOICE (Korean American Voter Organizing Initiative & Community Empowerment), which I joined to help people like my non-English speaking grandparents. The youth group is small, consisting of a handful of teenagers in the Cook County area, the youngest member being 15 years old. The goal of our group is simple: aid members of the Korean community, who are usually one of the least politically involved groups, in understanding their rights and exercising their voice.

Every election year, we host a program that assists elderly voters with the voting process. Since most of the kids in our program are bilingual, speaking both English and Korean, we hold this tradition as our duty for our own grandmothers and grandfathers in our community. My story takes place at this event.

Given that the polling station for Cook County is in Glenview, an hour away from where I live, I had a long drive. I arrived around 15 minutes late and saw a collection of signs and directions that led to the polling place, which was a large government building that was set up so that the lines would stretch outside so people could keep 6 feet of distance. I saw our group, consisting of 4-5 students, setting up a table station outside of the polling place with our teacher, community organizer Sik Son.

I began to help them finish preparations. Then, 20 minutes in, a group of middle aged white men and women walked over to our table, and began aggressively shouting at us, “you can’t do that here!” and “you’re electioneering!” (actually, we weren’t: for those curious, Illinois law dictates that it is legal for those who need language assistance to receive help from a translator), along with “we’ve got multiple reports that you’re telling people to vote Democrat!” which was impossible since we hadn’t even started helping the voters yet. After multiple protests from us, Son brought up the point, ”why only Democrat? Why not Republicans?”

They soon went back inside. An hour later they reemerged, and left altogether when Mr. Son asked for their identification. I still remember the face of one of our junior girls when she told me that she was “too scared to go back inside” because of what happened. Originally, I believed they were election officials, but it was later I realized what was actually happening: I had run across some wannabe poll watchers.

Make no mistake, actual poll watchers aid a legitimate American Tradition that is necessary for fair elections. These Americans go through a training program that certifies them to legally watch for election fraud at polling places; however, that’s not what was happening in my case. What we had encountered were civilians who had taken it into their own hands to ‘aid democracy” on their own, without the proper qualifications.

So many emotions ran through my mind. Confusion. Sadness. Then, a protective anger. These were my underclassmen. As one of the seniors there, I should have defended them. I felt my chest start to hurt, confused as to why 40-something-year-olds felt the need to disrespect and verbally harass children just to have a little bit more control over their lives. This is why my story is important.

There’s a reason why the Karen squad kept accusing us of telling people to vote Democrat. Of course, a group of Asian American students is rigging the elections to vote for Democrats. Why wouldn’t they be? Clearly, all Asians are liberal scum that brought the Wuhan Flu to the U.S.! They just can’t be trusted, with their foreign language and strange skin tone and slanted eyes. These ideas, although unsaid, hung in the air like static during a lightning storm. I felt marginalized, forced into a caricature that was created so that people that looked like me would be unwillingly politicized.

Secondly, this is no isolated incident. After President Trump said that this will be the “most rigged election in the history of the United States” and gave his voters a rallying cry to “show up to the polls and watch very closely,” stories like mine have only increased.

It is true that there will be interference in the elections- but it won’t be because of voter fraud. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, incidents of voting fraud fell somewhere between 0.0003 and 0.00025 percent. It is more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud. The irony is, President Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud incentivize his base to come to the polls and attempt to “help.” However within that idea lies the real problem: radical, “vigilante” poll watchers that are untrained also show up to election sites, inspired by their mission to “aid democracy.”

In this lies the much more likely facilitator of interference in our elections. Ironically, that same mission to aid democracy undermines it, leading to the silencing and intimidation of minority voices. A nation that does not look after its most vulnerable populations has no right to call themselves a democracy. According to the constitution, we are all born with the unalienable right to participate in our democracy. That means EVERYONE has a voice- and when those voices are smothered, that is truly when the essence of our democracy is threatened. Who would’ve thought that the real “threat to democracy” is our own president?

In the end, there’s little I can do about this one incident. Poll watchers can be reported through their IDs, but without any identification, there’s nothing that can be done about unidentified citizens.

At first, I felt a burning sense of anger and powerlessness. However, I began to look at the numbers. According to a Pew Research study poll, young voters ages 18-23 make up 10% of eligible voters, more than twice as much as in 2016. Our generation is on the rise- we have more access to power than ever before. In the past, we were expected to just exist obediently until we became adults. Now, there’s no longer any need for that wait- it’s the dawn of a new era of political power for our generation.

The thing with that power, though, is that those who have it don’t want to give it away. They may set up walls, but it is our job to tear them down, brick-by-brick. They may unleash a tempest of insults onto us, but it is our job to weather that storm and fight back. They may tell us that our voices do not matter, that we’re just stupid children who know nothing, but it is our duty to prove them otherwise.

So now, I’ll ask you this personally. I do not know you, but I am talking to you- just you. How many more times until it is enough? How many more instances of you thinking “man, this world really needs to change,” until you finally decide to do something?

To all young people reading this- it is our time to finally do something about what we believe in. If you can vote, do it. If voting is not important, why are so many people trying to stop us from doing it? If you are unable to vote, tell your loved ones to. Together, we can make our voices heard.

This story was originally published on The Echo on November 2, 2020.