This past legislative session was historic for our community. APACEvotes (Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment Votes) helped push multiple bills through the legislature that expanded access to democracy for all communities.
Our main focus was Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), which improves our AAPI voter registration rates. We were advocating from the belief that policymakers should push to maximize citizen participation in democracy. This is particularly important for our community, who has been historically disenfranchised from voting access.
We are one of the few AAPI organizations doing advocacy in Olympia, and the only one specifically advocating for voter access. It benefits our democracy to have more AAPIs involved in the democratic process. I hope this article will inspire you to advocate for what you believe. The process is not as daunting as it seems.
First, decide what issues set you on fire. There are many issues that impact you and your family. New laws are proposed every day that you may strongly agree or disagree with. You can also contact your legislators and propose a new law yourself! If they agree, they can sponsor or support your new law.
New laws that address issues you care about can only be passed if you and other citizens actively participate. This is democracy in action.
Doing this on your own is possible, or you can ally with others to accomplish your goals. APACEvotes joined the Washington Voting Justice Coalition (WVJC), a group of other organiza-tions that supports laws to increase voter access. This was a broad coalition, including among others, One America, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Washington Student Association, the Washington State Labor Council and the Latino Community Fund.
Joining this coalition provided us with the ability to educate and advocate for our AAPI community and it also coordinated a comprehensive advocacy effort for Same Day Voter Registration, pre-registration for 16 and 17-year olds, AVR and the WA Voting Rights Act.
WVJC helped develop the AVR bill with specific language with legislators. We supported an AVR bill that helped as many people as possible to register to vote, while assuring that non-citizens would not accidentally be registered to vote.
It is important that you talk to the correct legislators. If you are supporting a bill, you must know who is writing the bill and which committees will hold hearings on it so that you can testify for it.
Our coalition focused on talking with Rep. Zach Hudgins (D-11) and Sen. Sam Hunt (D-22) to be prime sponsors of the AVR bills. As the AVR bills moved to the committee process, APACEvotes gave multiple testimonies in favor of the AVR bills and advocated for privacy pro-tections.
Also, you do not have to go to Olympia in person to give testimony. On the day of the committee hearing, you can sign in online and you can testify by phone, email or a letter to support a new law, and that feedback will still be considered. Usually elected officials only consider input that comes from within their district, but when there are issues of importance to the whole state, they will listen to all Washington citizens.
APACEvotes sent mailers educating AAPIs about AVR in three languages and organized phone banks to reach out the AAPI community to encourage them to support AVR with a call to their legislators. We placed advertisements in AAPI newspapers and radio stations, and we targeted AAPI voters in social media to educate our community about AVR.
Our ads were in multiple languages and in multiple media forms, allowing for diverse segments of the AAPI population to learn about voting access and how to participate in advocacy for AVR.
Following your bill during session is essential, even after you give your original opinion. Things can easily sidetrack your bill with the pace and volume of activity in Olympia. A quick follow-up email or phone call to your legislators will keep your voice active in our democracy.
You may not have the time to do this all yourself, but convincing your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to make a call or send an email in support of your issue can result in positive action from a legislator. The power of one citizen who takes action is multiplied. The power of each of your friends, family and networks can change the world!
Influencing democracy is possible – and necessary. I hope you will stay active and that you will contact your legislators year-round whenever an issue moves you. Now, more than ever, AAPI’s need to participate in our democracy. It only works with you, the citizens.