Groups Focus on Asian-American Voting Rights Through Humor and Presence at the Polls

18 Million Rising (18MR), an organization promoting voter registration among the Asian American community, has launched a series of online spots worth checking out for their humor and educational value. As CNN's Moni Basu reports, the series of "Bee a Winner" videos features comedian Bob Saget and South Asian actors— with Parvesh Cheena of Outsourced and Sonal Shal of Scrubs—as contestants in a mock spelling bee (nine of the last 13 Scripps National Spelling Bee Winners have been South Asian).

In the videos targeting mostly younger voters, contestants tackle campaign and civic related vocabulary. In typical spelling bee fashion, they ask for the words to be used in sentences.

In what is arbitrarily the funniest spot, Kosha Patel comes up with her own sentence before the moderator (Saget) gets his thoughts organized:  

Her word: Swing Voter. Her sentence: "Asian-Americans will be the deciding swing voters in November's elections."

Words featured and defined in other spots include:

Suppression: "Voter suppression has been a serious issue with the South Asian community."

Ignored: "84% of Indians were ignored by both parties with regard to voting in 2012."

Undecided: "25% of South Asians are considered undecided voters."

18 Million Rising explains the reasons behind their push: 

There are approximately 18 million Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, representing nearly 6% of the total population and growing faster than any other racial group (!) Despite that, Asian Americans remain one of the most politically under–organized, under–engaged, and under–represented constituencies: only 55% of Asian American citizens of voting age are registered to vote -- the lowest rate of all races.

18MR is not the only organization focused on Asian Americans. In California, where Asians make up 10 percent of registered voters, the LA Times is reporting today that a coalition of 13 community-based group is engaged in a large "Your Vote Matters!" campaign:

In Chinatown, there's a get-out-the-vote T-shirt campaign.Gurdwaras — places of worship for Sikhs — are being used to distribute voting information and videos in Punjabi. A "Does Your Asian Mom Vote" video produced by the San Gabriel Valley's Fung Brothers draws viewers on YouTube. And multilingual posters, buttons and stickers proclaiming "I'm Asian and I Vote" are being distributed.

The organization behind the campaign, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), feels that voter education and mobilization are only part of what's needed. The organization will also be monitoring polling sites. Eugene Lee, voting rights project director for APALC, says that:

“Many Asian American voters rely on language assistance, such as translated ballot materials and bilingual election workers, to cast their ballots...We will send out trained volunteers to poll sites on Election Day to ensure that voters have full access to this assistance, which in Los Angeles County includes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and now for the first time, Hindi, Khmer and Thai.”

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) will also be taking an active role to protect Asian American voting rights on Election Day. The organization plans on conducting multi-language exit polls with 10,000 Asian American voters. They are targeting 14 states (many of them swing) with large Asian American populations: New York, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Illinois, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, California, and Washington, D.C. Worried about the "wave of new state voter identification and proof of citizenship laws," AALDEF also plans to

...[m]onitor over 100 poll sites to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Help America Vote Act. These poll sites are in areas with large numbers of newly-registered Asian American voters, jurisdictions in which Asian-language assistance must be provided, and sites where Asian Americans have reported voting barriers or intimidation in recent elections. Volunteer attorneys will check to see whether Asian-language voting assistance has been provided (such as ballots, interpreters, signs, and voting materials) and whether provisional ballots are offered to voters whose names are not in voter lists. Attorneys will monitor the sites to ensure that voter identification requirements are implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.

In a press release, AALDEF Democracy Program Director Glenn D. Magpantay said:

"In the 2008 elections, Asian Americans had to overcome numerous obstacles to exercise their right to vote....AALDEF volunteers identified mistranslated ballots, interpreter shortages that led to Asian American voters being turned away, and poll workers who made hostile and racist remarks about Asian American voters. AALDEF will guard against the disenfranchisement of new citizens and limited English proficient voters."

With record numbers of Asian candidates running for Congress, Asian voter turnout could indeed have an important impact on state, local, and national elections. October figures from the National Asian American Survey, (NAAS) a joint project run by professors at UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, USC and the University of Maryland, show that Asian Americans favor Obama (50 percent) over Romney (19 percent). However, according to October 15th NAAS figures, 30 percent of Asian voters are as of yet undecided. What's more, Asian voters are by and large non-partisan, with over 51 percent telling NAAS researchers they are independents.