Asian American voter turnout should be an important issue for any agencies, candidates, and causes looking toward the 2018 election and beyond.
While Asian Americans are currently the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, this group has also exhibited a low voter turnout rate for decades. For example, in the 2016 election, Asian American voter turnout stood at just 49 percent, while more than 64 percent of white Americans voted. As the Asian American population grows, this gap can either be exacerbated or improved. Those agencies, candidates, and causes hoping to connect with this group that will make up almost 10 percent of eligible voters by 2036 should consider language access and translation as ways to increase Asian American voter turnout.
Improving Asian American voter turnout may be especially important in battleground states such as Virginia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Georgia, which all have rapidly growing Asian American populations. However, battleground states are not the only location to focus on for improving Asian American voter turnout. Nearly one-third of the nation’s Asian Americans live in California, and Asian Americans comprise 5 percent or more of the voters in nine states, 79 counties, and 102 congressional districts.
By improving language access, agencies, causes, and candidates can provide Asian American voters with the support they need to participate in the democratic process. Here are three ways to use language access and translation to increase Asian American voter turnout.
Asian American Voter Turnout Idea #1: Focus On Specific Language Communities
While the U.S. Census Bureau may group all 20 million Asian Americans into one category, the reality is that these people have roots in more than 20 different countries and dozens of different cultural backgrounds. There is not a single common language that agencies, causes, or candidates can use to communicate in and therefore increase Asian American voter turnout.
Nearly 1 in 3 Asian Americans speak English less than “very well,” but English proficiency differs significantly by ethnicity. For example, 73 percent of Bhutanese people and 72 percent of Burmese people are Limited English Proficient, compared with 20 percent of Indian people and 16 percent of Japanese people. However, all of these people are considered Asian Americans.
To connect with Asian American voters, agencies, causes, or candidates should conduct in-language polling and analysis on specific language communities. By focusing on specific groups, agencies, causes or candidates can learn more about the differing needs and opinions of distinct language communities and increase Asian American voter turnout.
A language services provider, such as Avantpage, can help your organization understand the vast array of Asian American languages and how to provide properly translated materials to specific communities.
Asian American Voter Turnout Idea #2: Go Beyond the Voting Rights Act
While Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain jurisdictions to provide language assistance at polling places, this law should be the beginning and not the end of an agency, cause or candidate’s efforts to increase Asian American voter turnout.
First, government agencies should review current policies and processes to ensure they adhere to Section 203. For example, while as many as 60 percent of Asian Americans voters rely on language assistance at the polls, only 27 jurisdictions in the United States are covered for at least one Asian language, and even in covered jurisdictions, language assistance is not always fully available. One 2012 study showed that 45 percent of a sample of covered precincts had missing or poorly displayed translated materials, and 23 percent lacked at least one Asian-language bilingual poll worker.
For those agencies that are complying with Section 203 rigorously, the next step to increase Asian American voter turnout would be to expand language access beyond the minimum population threshold. States and counties do not have to not wait for the federal government’s direction to expand assistance to LEP communities. For example, before the 2016 election, Cook County, Illinois, chose to provide Korean-language ballots even though it was not required by Section 203. Some states, such as California, have their own state-specific election codes that guarantee language assistance to populations smaller than what is outlined in federal law.
A language services provider, such as Avantpage, can help your organization go beyond Section 203 and provide language assistance to a broader group of Asian American voters to help increase turnout.
Asian American Voter Turnout Idea #3: Increase Outreach
Even though Asian American voters can be a pivotal group for different candidates and causes, only 33 percent of Asian Americans reported being contacted by a partisan or nonpartisan organization regarding the 2016 election, compared with 46 percent of whites. This lack of outreach could decrease Asian American voter turnout, as research suggests that contacting voters before elections increases their likelihood of voting. One study showed that phone banking increased Asian American voter turnout in Southern California by more than 10 percentage points.
Candidates and causes should care about reaching out to Asian American voters, as it’s been shown that Asian Americans make up the winning margin in many state districts.
To reach out to Asian American voters, work with a language services provider, such as Avantpage, which can help you translate your message. To learn more about working with a language services provider, call us today at (530) 750-2040 or request a free quote.
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