Asian Americans: The Up-for-Grabs Electorate

FILE - This Oct. 30, 2012 file photo shows people voting early at the Salt Lake County Government Building in Salt Lake City,
FILE - This Oct. 30, 2012 file photo shows people voting early at the Salt Lake County Government Building in Salt Lake City, ahead of the Nov. 6 election. There’s always grousing about people who don’t bother to vote. But look at it another way: An estimated 133 million Americans will cast ballots in Tuesday’s election. That’s about 6 in 10 eligible adults. Some will persevere despite long lines, pressing personal burdens or the devastation left by Superstorm Sandy. Why do they do it? It’s not because any one voter will decide the contest between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Depending on which state they live in, the odds of casting a deciding vote for president are somewhere between 1 in a million and essentially zero. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

On a cold Minnesota day in January of 2002, I was elected as a first-time candidate in a Special Election to the Minnesota State Senate. For the 10 years that I was in office, every year was a campaign year, not just in the three years where my name was on the ballot. Many people told me that I was crazy to do so much outreach to my constituents when I didn't have an election. However, I knew that there was more at stake than just winning elections and counting votes. I wanted much more.

Every election cycle was an opportunity for critical conversations with my community and an avenue for my neighbors to fight for their most basic civil and human rights. As the first Southeast Asian refugee to be elected to a State legislature, I -- along with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community -- was fighting every year to stake our claim on our democracy. Finally, I wanted to build a movement where those who have been dismissed, disadvantaged, disenfranchised and disengaged, like those in the AAPI community, could make the marginal difference -- be the margin of victory, be visible, exert influence and wield political power.

As a candidate, I counted on every vote and made sure that every vote was counted. This election season, however, I have been disappointed by the discounting of the AAPI voice. If we were to believe the headlines and the political pundits, the voices of AAPIs do not seem to matter. Whether candidates and political parties subscribe to this same dismissal of our population will bear out in the days to come as the analysts review the factors that either contributed to or detracted from a candidate's success.

This is what we do know. There's been a 46 percent growth rate in the AAPI population since the 2000 Census, making AAPIs 6 percent of the U.S. population. This infographic reveals the nuances of the Asian American vote and how AAPI families are settling down outside the predictable gateway cities and states, and growing in places like Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis. Today, there are more than 30 AAPI candidates running for federal office, not to mention many more who are involved in local races.

A recent survey conducted by the Asian American Justice Center, in partnership with APIAVote, Asian American Institute and Lake Research Partners found that more than 80 percent of AAPI registered voters are almost certain to vote in this election. The survey also found nearly one-third of AAPI voters were undecided, yet, close to 60 percent of these voters, including those with a Democrat or Republican party affiliation, said they had never been contacted by any political party or presidential candidate.

In an election season where winners and losers will be determined by the slimmest of margins, my own experience tells me that those who continue to overlook the AAPI voting bloc do so at their own peril.

While it has been 10 years since I first ran for public office, each Election Day since, whether I was on the ballot or not, I have felt the same sense of anxious anticipation and nervous excitement. For me, it is a day not only to reflect on our legacy of a government of, for and by the people, but also a day to fully exercise our voice, our choice, our opportunity and our responsibility to select the most qualified among competing caretakers of our collective future.

Note: On Election Day, AAJC and APIA Vote will be running a first-of-its kind voter hotline - 888-API-VOTE - in multiple Asian languages for voters in Florida and Virginia.