Vietnamese-American, African-American, and other youth of color from VAYLA New Orleans spent weeks leading up to Saturday's runoff election encouraging voters to head to the polls. The election for Louisiana governor ended with a win for Democratic challenger John Bel Edwards, who defeated Republican David Vitter in a closely-watched race.
“As a nonpartisan organization...our job is not to recommend who to vote for but to make sure that our community understands the issues at stake and why their votes count," Minh Thanh Nguyen, executive director of VAYLA New Orleans, told NBC News. "Even with the various barriers that the governor and state legislature have enacted, like the lack of language access and moving of polling locations without proper notice, we have seen preliminary numbers to indicate that we are seeing more than above projected turnout from the [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community.”
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Vitter had been widely considered unbeatable for outgoing Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s seat, until the weeks leading up to the election when he became the target of blunt ads referring to Vitter's 2007 prostitution scandal.
Noting that the better educated the community is on the issues and the importance of voting, the more that turn out to vote and volunteer, Nguyen told NBC News. “We are working to make sure that poor and working class voters of color come out and vote," he said, adding that efforts to reach voters through phone, mail, the Internet, and door-to-door outreach was key. “We have touched every Asian American voter in the state of Louisiana,” said Nguyen.
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Nguyen hopes that elected officials from both parties take note of this increased participation and become more responsive to the needs of the community, from access to affordable health care to pathways to higher education.