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Power at CA Polls Growing, So Why Don't Asian Americans Vote?

A California analysis shows Asian-American registered voters could wield more political power if only they actually voted.

Asian-American registered voters could wield more political power if only they actually voted, according to a new statewide analysis of data from California’s 2012 election.

In 38 Congressional, State Senate and Assembly races throughout the state, Asian-American registered voters exceeded the margin of victory. And in 75 races, the number of registered voters exceeded half the margin of victory.

To Dan Ichinose, demographic researcher for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, it’s the definition of a real influential swing vote.

“The analysis of margin of victory establishes which areas the Asian-American vote can swing the vote either way,” said Ichinose, who examined the California election files. “There’s real influence here…It also says that candidates must engage the Asian-American voter if they want to win.”

Ichinose said the profile of the nation’s largest Asian-American state by population is mostly positive. There are more than 1.7 million Asian American registered voters in the state, with 61 percent from immigrant backgrounds.

But the data from 2012 also showed Asian American registered voters don’t always vote. Only 65 percent of Asian Americans actually cast ballots compared to the general turnout of 72 percent, according to Ichinose’ analysis.

“That’s particularly true among young voters and immigrant voters,” said Ichinose. Japanese-American registered voters had the highest turnout rate at 78 percent, Asian Indians followed with 71 percent. 68 percent of Filipino Americans turned out to vote, and 64 percent of Chinese Americans.

Turnout among registered voters was lowest among Cambodian Americans (48 percent), Korean Americans (56 percent), and Vietnamese Americans (60 percent).

Ichinose said the lagging numbers correspond with groups that have the greatest language access needs. He said the data shows the difficulty that registered Asian immigrant voters still have in the “political acculturation” process. That could be made smoother with more and better voter outreach, said Eugene Lee of Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s Democracy Project.

Lee said low turnout is more about systemic barriers rather than an indifference to voting or politics. He said there’s a real need for targeted voter education programs, as well as poll monitoring on Election Day to make sure that the federal and state language assistance laws are complied with to help Asian-American voters.