They are America’s fastest-growing minority group who could tip the balance in several key swing states in today’s presidential election.
Their voting numbers and percentage increased from the 2004 to 2008 contest, yet their turnout was still less than 50 percent. They have fewer elected officials one might expect, given their share of the population.
And, while they tilt toward the Democratic Party, a core number vote Republican with a large chunk undecided shortly before the election.
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Asian-Americans, not Hispanics, fit this profile.
Both groups had a 45 and 49 percent turnout in the last two presidential elections, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Asian turnout is expected to be greater on a local level this year, according to a WBEZ report, and Catherine Amy Moy, assistant principal of the John C. Haines Elementary School, concurred with that assessment. She cited outreach and voter registration work done by Chinese community organizations as contributing to that potential growth.
Shane Mei, a 16-year-old election judge at Haines, went door to door two or three days per week over the summer.
“We tell them why they should vote,” said Mei, a Haines alumnus who is in her junior year at Thomas Kelly High School.
But a number of potential senior voters were deterred from voting when they went to Haines, their previous polling site, and discovered that they had to go another location.
This happened because the ward boundaries changed between 2008 and 2012 due to the ward redistricting, said Election Judge Valerie Pang. The lifelong Chinatown resident said that part of 24th Street is in the 11th Ward, while another part of it is in the 25th Ward.
Despite these seniors’ not voting, Pang also said she thought turnout would be up this year.
“It’s a slow trickle, but they’re coming out to vote,” she said.
The division of Chinatown into multiple wards has diluted the community’s impact and contributed to its having a comparatively light footprint on the local and state level, according to some.
Ameya Pawar made history in 2011 when he became Chicago’s first-ever Asian-American alderman by winning the right to represent the 47th Ward in the North Center neighborhood on the city’s Northeast Side. Illinois has never had an Asian or Asian-American representative or senator.
The picture is somewhat brighter on the national level.
A record 25 Asian Americans are running for Congress this cycle: 24 for the U.S. House, plus U.S. Senate candidate and current congresswoman Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, according to Thomas Schaller of Salon.
In a Seattle Times opinion piece in early October, Richard Lui explained how Asian voters could make the difference in key state in today’s election:
“In Florida, Asian Americans are 3 percent of the population, according to the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice — small, but Obama won the state by 2.5 percent in 2008. In Nevada, they are 9 percent of the population; Obama won that state by 12.4 percent in the last election. In Virginia, where they are 7 percent; Obama won by 6.3 percent four years ago.”
Back at the Haines School, Moy said she organized a mock election to teach the students about the importance of voting. The election was the culmination of academic activities that educated students about the democratic process.
Obama won the election handily, gather 619, or 89 percent, of the 693 votes cast, Moy said. She discarded some of the votes because she could not tell for which candidate the ballot had been cast.
John Vu, 29 and a cosmetologist from Vietnam, was visiting Chinatown’s business district with some friends from Milwaukee.
He said that many people within the community support the Democratic Party, adding that there have been a number of undecided voters, too. As opposed to larger Vietnamese communities in Texas and California, Vietnamese people in Milwaukee are not yet holding rallies.
Vu said he usually votes, but missed the deadline to register for this election. But the the shaky state of the economy is prompting Asians and Asian-Americans like him is prompting them to engage more actively in the political process.
“We want to get involved,” Vu said.