By Julia Tong, AsAmNews Staff Writer
The 2022 midterm Senate election in Georgia was notoriously close: the margin between Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker was a mere 37,675 votes, pushing the election into a runoff.
Notably, Asian Americans in the state cast over 110,000 ballots during the election. Beyond that, they turned out in greater numbers than in previous years during the runoff.
“This clearly illustrates just how critical of a part of the margin of victory the AAPI community is now playing in elections all around the country,” says Raymond Partolan, a National Field Director with APIAVote. “We not only see this in Georgia, but we see it in other states as well.”
According to Partolan, analysis of available early voting on the 2022 midterm elections shows that the AAPI community increased their early voter turnout nationally by 20.4%, representing an increase of over 330,000 votes. In battleground states, this number increases to 33.6%. These results signify the power of AAPIs, who are the fastest-growing demographic in the US, to swing those important elections.
In a Post-Election Debrief webinar hosted by APIAVote, four community organizers from local groups in battleground states discussed their efforts to mobilize AAPI voters. Using tactics ranging from phone and text banking to translating materials to fun in-person events, they engaged their communities to become the margin of victory in contentious elections.
Beyond winning elections, voting is especially important for AAPIs to make their voices heard. Per Debbie Chen, the Civic Engagement Director at OCA Greater Houston, organizing efforts are critical to ensuring that the needs of the community are addressed by policymakers.
“Right now, the reality is that candidates from both parties pretty much ignore the AAPI community, we’re not really taken that seriously, policymakers don’t consistently actually take our community seriously or have us in mind,” Chen says. “Us promoting everyone to go vote and being an educated voter can change that narrative”
Organizing AAPIs to be the margin of victory
A key tactic used by all four organizations was direct outreach to voters, including phone calls, texts, and mailers. These allowed organizers to distribute crucial important information on how to register to vote and cast a ballot to their communities.
Collectively, the four organizations on APIAVote’s webinar made over 300,000 calls, sent over 500,000 texts, and knocked on over 50,000 doors. On a nationwide level, APIAVote recorded over 292,000 phone calls (excluding the 1.2 million made outside of their system) and 800,000 texts. The organization also sent 2 million pieces of mail to AAPI households, and maintained a multilingual voter protection hotline at 1-800-API-VOTE.
According to Partolan, these efforts had a significant impact on turnout: Citizens contacted by APIAVote voted at a rate 5.37% higher than those who were not.
“When we reach out to people, when we encourage them to vote… we are increasing the likelihood that they’re going to cast the ballot,” he says.
“And when we cast our ballots at these rates…elected officials and candidates for public office are going to pay more attention to our community, and are going to consider our needs and our concerns.”
A concrete example of this was in Arizona, where the ballot contained two propositions covering issues important to the AAPI community. Proposition 308 allowed undocumented students to have in-state tuition, and Proposition 309 was a restrictive voter ID law.
In response, AZ AANHPI for Equity set a goal to contact every AAPI voter in Arizona in 2022. Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Chau says that the organization reached 76,020 AAPI voters across the state, registering 1,701 of them to vote and educating them using multilingual materials.
Proposition 308 passed with a margin of 1%, and Proposition 309 was rejected by a similarly small margin, reflecting the crucial role of Asian voters in tight elections.
Language access was a crucial factor in mobilizing AAPI voters. Voting laws and procedures can often be confusing since they vary by state. However, official materials are often only provided in English or a select number of languages—forming a significant barrier to the many AAPI voters with limited English proficiency.
Miao Hong, the Outreach Manager at the Asian Community Development Council (ACDC) in Nevada, works closely with AAPI communities across the state.
Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act mandates the county to provide election materials and ballots in Spanish and Tagalog.
Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, is home to over 33,000 Chinese residents; around half are less than English proficient. The law mandates that bilingual material be provided in a language when that community’s population is more than 5 percent of all voting-age citizens.
Chinese, however, missed the cutoff necessary by less than 500 people. To compound the issue, Section 203 language determinations are only made every 4 years.
“The language determination would not be made again until 2026. But we have an election in 2022, and an election coming up in 2024,” Hong says. “And so, this need for language access was extremely dire.”
In response, ACDC translated the Clark County voter guide into Chinese. The organization then distributed over 5,500 copies to various Chinese-speaking communities in Las Vegas, including mainland Chinese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese, Singaporean, and Malaysian. They also submitted a letter to the Asian-American Pacific Islanders Community Commission advocating for all election materials to be translated into Chinese in 2024.
Finally, in today’s technological world, many voter outreach efforts were conducted remotely. But organizers underlined the importance of in-person outreach and events in encouraging the community to vote.
ACDC’s voter engagement events, for instance, included a “Petting Zoo Palooza,” a K-Pop themed “Permission to Vote” event, and a showing of the film Everything Everywhere All at Once on National Voter Registration Day. In-person events were also successful in motivating community members to contribute to canvassing, phone banking, and texting. AZ AANHPI held over 30 cultural events, including Dim Sum canvassing and Boba and Ballots, where participants received boba for texting 3 people to vote.
Chau says that these in-person outreach and events nurtured connections that online ones could not.
“The… connection of the in-person, face-to-face, one on one conversations was key and important to the voter engagement work,” she says. “For us being able to speak in language, communicate, have meaningful conversations about issues and even information on voting— we were able to provide that in person.”
Future policy work
Though the midterm elections saw unprecedented turnout, community advocates stressed that there is still much work to be done to fully engage the AAPI community.
Trang Dang, a Program Manager for VietLead and AAPI PA Power Caucus, observed that one of the major obstacles her organization faced while reaching out to AAPI citizens in the midterms were their “misplaced anger” over the government’s failure to address pressing issues they faced. This made it challenging to motivate them to vote or participate in volunteer efforts.
“The struggle that we faced is the folks who are feeling defeated with the current condition that we’re facing,” said Dang, adding that it was difficult to “go out and encourage folks to vote when they’re… struggling so much and [don’t] have direct solutions.”
Fighting this, Dang stresses, requires educating voters and building coalitions between organizations. Doing so lays the foundation for community members to come together and advocate for their needs.
The AAPI PA Power Caucus, for instance, is planning to partner with various AAPI organizations across Pennsylvania to tackle critical local issues. The projects they may focus on include Asian Americans United’s fight against a stadium being built in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, AAPI PA’s mental health crisis response, or CARE’s efforts in ensuring critical race theory is taught across the state.
Dang’s work reflects how, to many AAPI advocacy organizations, the success of 2022 midterm organizing efforts was only the first step towards building a strong AAPI voter base.
In Texas, for instance, OCA Greater Houston has already laid out plans to make sure AAPI voters are heard and counted over the next decade, up to the 2030 Census. Chen says the organization aims to bring in an additional 250,000 voters through 2024. This will be crucial since next year’s legislative session in the state includes numerous bills on issues consequential to the AAPI community, including language access, a mandated AAPI curriculum, voter suppression, anti-Trans legislation, and quality health data access.
The midterms, she says, were only the foundation for these long-term goals.
“We would be able to galvanize everyone to work together to be able to actually run large field campaigns similar to Georgia. It takes time to build that capacity,” she says. “That’s what we’ve invested in in 2022.”
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