High Turnout: First-Time and Immigrant Voters Come Out to Vote in New York’s Chinatown

NEW YORK – Yan Tai, World Journal reporter

On this Election Day, Chinatown in Manhattan is not hustle-and-bustle as usual. Stores see smaller crowds due to the closure of government offices and schools. The unlikely busy places turned out to be the polling sites where a higher-than-ever turnout rate is observed.

There were no long lines at polling sites in Chinatown this morning. Voters were evenly spread throughout the morning. Voters reported they had no problems with the voting machines or language service at the sites. The local Board of Elections had allocated about 700 Chinese translators across the city.

At one of the rich pockets of votes in Chinatown, Confucius Plaza housing complex, poll workers said they saw more people coming out to vote. Stephen Chan, a translator on the site, told me that there were probably 30 percent more voters in the morning session than at comparable times in previous presidential elections.

Eddie Chao, a community advocate, has been watching the election since 6 AM. He estimated over 500 votes had been cast by 11 AM. He said this site recorded about 1,080 votes in the 2004 presidential election. “It should well exceed this record today,” Chao said.

Retirees and stay-at-home moms constituted the majority of people who voted during the day. I saw seniors in wheelchairs and housewives holding grocery bags come in to vote.

Justin Yu, president of Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, also a resident of Confucius Plaza, estimated there is a 50-50 percent split between Barack Obama and John McCain supporters among local voters. The site home to most of Chinatown’s Republicans.

On the other side of Chinatown at P.S. 1, there were many first-time voters – new immigrants from Fukien province. Most voters here were concerned about the economy. Obama seemed to be better received among them.

Fukienese immigrant Ms. Chen, who declined to give her first name, voted while her 11-year-old daughter observed. She told me she believes the Democratic Party is more democratic and friendly to new immigrants and that’s why she voted for Obama.

“I want to give him a chance,” she said. “I certainly want him to fix the economy.”

Ellen Liu, 19, also voted for the first time. She never hesitated to vote for Obama. Asked how it felt to cast her first vote, she said: “Not what I expected, I thought at least the voting machine should be more high-tech than this.” New York State uses old-style voting machines.

Liu also said she was disappointed that the high publicity of the presidential election overshadowed the rest of the race.

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