Asian Americans are approximately 2.5 percent of the electorate in Florida, according to APIA Vote — roughly half the proportional size of the national Asian-American electorate — but this election year, there’s an all-out effort to grow the vote.
“The Asian-American community in Florida is smaller than California’s, but we make a difference,” Evelyn Bruce, the executive director of NANAY Community Development, told NBC News.
During early voting last week, Bruce, a Filipino-American transplant from California, was out organizing volunteer drivers to shuttle seniors from North Miami’s NANAY Community Center to polling places.
“Our elders can’t wait 'til March 15 and wait in line for eight hours,” Bruce, who is also a leader in the Asian American Federation of Florida, said. Shuttling seniors and getting others to the polls on election day is just the final part of a voter drive that began with registration efforts last year at major Asian-American cultural events around the state.
“We know this works,” Bruce said. She's been engaging with people at cultural events for a decade. This year, she’s coordinating her efforts with national non-profit organization APIA Vote.
In Florida, Bruce has reached out to nearly 70 different associations that span a wide range of Asian ethnicities and languages. By far, language, she said, has been the largest barrier to registering new voters. But by working with the largest and most trusted groups, like OCA — formerly the Organization of Chinese Americans — and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, Bruce and others are making sure Asian Americans in the Sunshine State aren’t shut out on Tuesday. They're expecting a noticeably higher voter turnout this year.
“I would say turnout would be about 40 to 60 percent more than previous years,” Dick Aquino, co-chair of FilAm Vote, told NBC News. “Everywhere you go, you hear people say ‘I’m going to vote, I’m going to vote.’”
Aquino, a 20-year Navy veteran, is a Republican in the Jacksonville area. He said there are more Democrats in Florida than Republicans and stays non-partisan in his outreach. But he said he’s noticed more buzz about the Republicans than ever in his area.
“They are more vocal, and the majority of them are for Trump, especially the Filipinos,” Aquino said.
Aquino said he didn’t think the recent violence at Trump rallies would change the vote and suspected that the troubles may have been instigated by those that don’t want Trump to win.
“Donald Trump is not politically correct, and will probably get the nomination,” Aquino said. “He tells it like it is.”
Aquino, however, said he’s voting for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and those in his church are voting for Sen. Ted Cruz.
Bruce said the effort to expand the Asian-American vote only gets harder and more complicated with time. Part of the problem is identifying potential voters. On paper, Bruce said, most don’t see her as Asian, and if they do, they categorize her as Chinese, while she's Filipino American.
“Most of us [Filipinos] have Spanish names and get classified as Latinos and not Asians,” Bruce said. She is asking people to re-register, designating their birth place to make sure people are properly identified.
She’s also concerned about U.S. born and mixed-raced individuals and making sure they’re accounted for under the Asian-American category.
“We need to have more Asian Americans recognized in Florida because the only way to make a difference in any political endeavor is to have that high number,” Bruce said.
Bruce said politicians in Miami-Dade County are beginning to pay attention to Asian Americans. Despite just being a small percentage of the electorate, political leaders are asking to meet with her and others.
“They want us at the table,” Bruce said. “We’re vocal.”
And, she added, Asian Americans will be even more sought out if they make their presence felt at the polls.