A few weeks before the 2012 presidential election, I received a call from one of my closest childhood friends. He called to ask me about how to register to vote in our home state of California, where he attended college. I gave him the rundown, and afterward, I asked him whom he was voting for, like a good, nosy friend would do. His response? “Oh, I’m not voting. I’m just registering as a Democrat.” I was slightly annoyed, but not surprised. My friend, who is Asian-American, is a part of the large percentage of eligible Asian-American voters who don’t vote.
As of 2014, Asian-Americans make up 4 percent of the eligible voter population. The number varies from study to study, but approximately 47.3 percent of eligible Asian-American voters cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election. The Asian-American vote is the lowest among the major racial and ethnic groups, which leaves many people asking why.
One major reason the Asian-American voter turnout is so low is due to the lack of resources. Before the Nevada caucuses, there was an Asian caucus training held in Las Vegas. Several languages were being spoken at once, according to NPR reporter Asma Khalid. It’s difficult to organize a race of people who come from very different ethnic backgrounds. Issues that pertain to the Chinese community won’t be the same issues the Indian community is facing, which is something politicians and their campaign teams need to understand to appeal to different groups and gain support.
The language barrier is another challenge many Asian-American voters face. Sixty-one percent of Asian-American registered voters in California come from immigrant backgrounds, which means English may not be their first language. Los Angeles County provides ballots in nine different languages, and eight of them are Asian languages. Not every state is as diverse as California, but the Election Assistance Commission should provide election terminology glossaries in more languages than just six.
I’ve heard the stereotype before: Asian-Americans don’t vote because they are indifferent, don’t care, are more focused on school or work, or are simply “too busy,” a response the Pew Research Center received, which I don’t buy. It may be true for my friend and some of the Asian-American population, but it sure isn’t true for me.
In 1952, all Asian-American groups were granted the right to vote in the U.S. We were the last racial and ethnic minority group to be granted that right, and I think every Asian-American should exercise that right and have access to the resources to do so. We might be a small eligible–voter population, but our population can determine who wins or loses elections. And that’s crucial this year because we’re witnessing one of the most tumultuous election years in history.