50.50: Opinion

Asian Americans are key to Democrat success in US midterm elections

OPINION: The fastest-growing racial group in the US is gaining electoral power, notably in key states like Georgia

Anjali Enjeti
Anjali Enjeti
4 November 2022, 3.37pm

Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia Stacey Abrams (left) in a campaign meeting with the Indian American community in Forsyth County, Georgia, US - 18 October, 2022

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Kevin Lowery

After Donald Trump was elected in 2016, I learned that Asian Americans had one of the lowest voter turnouts of any other racial demographic in the U.S. As an Asian American myself and a lifelong Democrat, I decided to help get more Asians to the polls. The electoral gains we’ve made since 2016 have been astounding.

Not long ago, US politics ignored Asian Americans, a group that makes up about 7% of the US population (around 22 million people). But the country’s fastest-growing racial minority group, with roots in more than 20 countries, are increasingly playing a pivotal role in election outcomes, especially for the Democrats.

The Asian American vote was essential for Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, when two-thirds of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) voted for him, while a similar percentage voted for Democratic candidates in the 2021 Senate run-off in Georgia.

Their impact is particularly crucial in battleground states such as Georgia, where non-Hispanic whites make up only 51.9% of the population, and major elections are decided by only one or two percentage points. Although voter participation from every racial minority group in Georgia has soared since 2016, Asian Americans, who make up more than 4% of the population, had the most dramatic increase. AAPI Data found that the Asian American turnout surged by 84% in 2020 compared to 2016.

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Forsyth County has the highest Asian American population in Georgia – and this is where Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, and other candidates have spent their final days campaigning before next week’s midterm elections.

In the wake of Biden’s win, several Republican-controlled states have enacted legislation to make it far more difficult to vote, get an abortion or reduce gun violence. Some are also censoring public school lessons about racism.

Georgia is one such state. Last year, Republican governor Brian Kemp signed a new law that imposed several restrictions on voting, especially absentee voting, which Asian Americans used more than any other racial demographic in the state in 2020. For many Asian voters, the convenience of receiving the ballot at their home during a pandemic, as well as the ability to take their time to make their selections (especially if they are limited English proficiency speakers) make absentee ballot voting an appealing voting option.

A ban on abortion after six weeks took effect in Georgia soon after the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade. About a quarter of AAPIs women aged 15 to 49 live in states where abortion is banned or likely to be banned while, throughout the US, “language barriers, cultural stigmas, and low rates of insurance coverage” make abortion access especially difficult.

This April, a year after a gunman killed eight people at Asian spas in the Atlanta area, including six Chinese and Korean women, the Republican-controlled legislature in Georgia made it easier for citizens to access guns. The new ‘divisive concepts’ law makes it harder for public schools to teach about racism.

Given the sharp increase in violence against Asian Americans since the pandemic, these laws could not have come at a worse time.

Asian American voters in Georgia

As an electoral organiser for the Democrats in the Asian American community and a 15-year resident of Georgia, I’ve witnessed the evolution of Asian American voter participation first-hand.

In 2017, Asian Americans came out in full force to support Democratic congressional candidate Jon Ossoff. His narrow loss only strengthened the community’s resolve to do more for Democratic candidates in the future.

A year later, Democrat Stacey Abrams stood for governor for the first time, losing to Brian Kemp by a mere 54,000 votes. In that election, Asian Americans’ absentee ballots were rejected at a higher rate than white voters, and minority voters in particular waited in line for hours to cast their ballots.

In 2020, Georgia stunned the nation by delivering its 16 electoral votes to Joe Biden, helping him clinch victory over Trump. Black, Latino and Asian voters were crucial to the win. They rallied again soon after in the US Senate run-off to elect Raphael Warnock and Ossoff, securing the Democrats’ majority in Congress.

In next week’s midterm elections in Georgia, Abrams is facing Kemp in a rematch for governor. Republican senator Raphael Warnock is up for re-election. A loss to his Democrat opponent, Herschel Walker, could place the Senate in Republican control and end Democrats’ chances of advancing their agenda.

Close to the top of the ballot is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees Bee Nguyen, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state. Nguyen, who has served as state House representative since 2017, will be taking on incumbent Republican Brad Raffensperger, who, despite refusing to change the 2020 presidential election results at Donald Trump’s demand, later spearheaded SB 202, the law that made voting in Georgia more difficult.

Other Asian American candidates this year, most of whom are Democrats, include state senator Michelle Au, who is running for a state House seat after her Senate district was redrawn to favour Republicans. State representative Sam Park, the son of Korean immigrants and the first openly gay member of the General Assembly, is running for his fourth term. Daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants Nabilah Islam, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2020, is running for a state Senate seat.

Asian Americans in Georgia are fighting hard this election season – hosting candidate events and marches, handing out campaign literature in Asian languages, and calling and texting Asian voters.

Two weeks ago, the city of Johns Creek, which is 25% Asian, hosted its first-ever Diwali attracting dozens of dance troupes, 40 vendors and several thousand Indian Americans from the Atlanta metro area. Diwali almost always coincides with Georgia’s early voting period, where voters can cast their ballots in person at various locations. Dozens of Asian American activists, wearing campaign T-shirts for Abrams and Warnock, helped Asian voters figure out where and when they could vote, and encouraged them to vote for Democratic candidates.

Voting is now an important Asian American tradition. No matter what the outcome on 8 November, Asian American Democrats will still keep plugging away, building their communities and getting out the vote for candidates who care about the issues that affect them most.

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