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Community groups boost efforts to strengthen Asian-American vote



A flier advertising where to vote for South Asian communities. Asian American community groups have been making efforts to tap the potential of Asian American voters, whose participation at the polls has increased in recent elections but is still lower than that of other groups.
A flier advertising where to vote for South Asian communities. Asian American community groups have been making efforts to tap the potential of Asian American voters, whose participation at the polls has increased in recent elections but is still lower than that of other groups.
Courtesy New America Media

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As the midterm elections near, Asian-American community groups are trying to tap the voting potential of the nation's fastest-growing racial demographic.

It's estimated there are as many as 9 million eligible Asian-American voters, but their participation at the polls still lags behind that of white and black voters and is slightly behind that of Latinos.

Grassroots efforts in Los Angeles include a soon-to-open phone bank in 14 different Asian and Pacific Islander languages, which kicks off Oct. 9. It's being coordinated by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights group that’s engaged in voter outreach.

"Our plan is to target 30,000 registered voters who are infrequent voters,” said Eugene Lee, who directs the group's voter outreach efforts, “meaning they have only voted in three of the past five elections, they are newly registered, or they are young voters between the ages of 18 to 24."

Christine Chen of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIA Vote), a national civic engagement organization, said there were more than twice as many Asian-American grassroots groups who participated this year's National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 23, compared to 2012.

"Since 2010 there has been interest in out community because of the growth of our population, not just in California but in other states,” Chen said, “like in Atlanta, Georgia or northern Virginia, or in the Las Vegas area."

But there are challenges in getting Asian-American voters to the polls, especially those who are new U.S. citizens. Unlike the recent growth in the Latino  population, due mostly to native births, growth in the nation’s Asian-American  population is mostly due to immigration, and language barriers remain an issue.

Part of the outreach that Lee's group is doing is spreading word that eight new Asian and Pacific Islander languages were added earlier this year to the state of California's online voter registration system. They include Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai and Vietnamese. 

According to the California Secretary of State's office, roughly 1,100 new voters so far have signed up using these languages since they were introduced in April.