2016 election data shows how the Voting Rights Act has allowed the Asian American vote to grow
Over 50 years ago on August 6, 1965, America took a step towards equality with the creation of the historic Voting Rights Act (VRA). Voting is a cornerstone of the American experience that should be accessible to all Americans. This landmark piece of legislation secured and enforced the right to vote for minorities, particularly for African Americans who faced extensive voter discrimination and suppression. Thanks to the efforts of civil rights advocates whose tireless and courageous activism resulted in legislation to protect the vote for all Americans, marginalized communities such as Asian Americans have greatly benefited from voting rights protections. Fifty-two years later, we celebrate the many ways the VRA has protected and strengthened the Asian American voting community by fighting the modern day attacks on the voting rights of minority groups.
While Asian Americans tend to be viewed as perpetual foreigners, Asian American voters have often been overlooked by politicians and lawmakers. However, data from the 2016 election shows that Asian American voting is growing, and that our population has the real ability to impact elections.
In 2016 there were over 10.2 million Asian American citizens over the age of eighteen. This represented a record 2 million increase from the 2012 presidential election, virtually doubling the growth of Asian American voting-age citizens between the 2008 and 2012 elections. A study by the UCLA Study for the Center for Inequality and the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) has indicated that the Asian American electorate will more than double, and grow by 107% between 2015 and 2040. As the fastest growing group in the country, Asian Americans will continue to increase the size of its electorate and will continue to be the margin of victory in countless elections across the country.
Despite the many barriers to voting that exist for Asian Americans―including language barriers, voter intimidation, and the occasional added and unjust burden of poll workers asking for identification from people they assume to be “foreign”―86 percent of Asian Americans who were registered turned out to vote in the 2016 election. The per-state breakdown shows the high rates at which Asian Americans participate, especially in states like Virginia where almost 75% of AAPIs were registered to vote. Virginia’s Asian American citizen voting-age population was 300,000 in 2016, with 219,000 Asian Americans registered to vote. Among Asian Americans across the nation who voted, a majority are naturalized citizens, which shows that naturalized Asian Americans understand that one of the benefits of citizenship is the ability to vote. As such, Asian Americans should be engaged in culturally and linguistically-appropriate ways.
While we know Asian Americans vote at high rates when registered, we also know that we have work to do to optimize the community’s political power by increasing registration and turnout rates in our community. The top two reasons given by Asian Americans for not voting is that they do not like or are uninterested in the candidates and their platforms. When politicians continue to ignore the issues that affect Asian American communities and speak only to other groups, Asian Americans will not be incentivized to vote for them. Asian Americans deserve to be served by the nation’s leaders just like all other Americans; furthermore, the numbers show that Asian Americans are willing to engage more and more every year, so politicians would actually benefit from engaging this population.
Voting is the foundation of the democracy that America runs on. The VRA has given Asian Americans and other minority groups the opportunity and security to engage civically as Americans should. Asian Americans should continue to demand our voices be heard and fight to restore the VRA and protect the current provisions.