In past years, Asian and Pacific Islander voter turnout in Washington state has sunk below the national average, said Ben Henry, senior policy associate at Alliance for a Just Society and board president of Asian Pacific Americans for Civic Engagement (APACE).
The API population here has traditionally been some of the most underrepresented in terms of the population compared to number of ballots, he added.
APACE, SEIU, Win/Win Action and OneAmerica Votes sought to turn this around, pooling together $113,000 to ensure APA communities got out to vote. They formed Asian & Pacific Islanders for Jay Inslee, a historic campaign in more ways than one.
“This was the first time in history of Washington state that there has been this amount of resources dedicated to outreaching and registering voters in their own language,” said Henry. “We sent out more than 122,452 pieces of mail to 28,500 households, we made nearly 25,000 phones calls and knocked on nearly 300 doors.”
And for the first time in history, the largest multilingual campaign in the state put out 30 ads in eight languages across 12 API print and radio media outlets. Languages included both Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Punjabi, Hindi and English, reaching an unprecedented number of API voters speaking other languages.
James Hong, director of youth and community engagement at the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA), said voter turnout results from the last election revealed that only about 6 percent of Vietnamese Americans eligible to vote in King County actually voted.
A lack of culturally and linguistically accessible voter education among Vietnamese voters inspired Hong and the VFA to take action this election.
“In the 2012 elections, we registered nearly 350 new voters, about half of them new Vietnamese voters in the state,” said Hong.
VFA also hosted two voter education parties to inform new voters about the election process, and engaged more than 15 volunteers to phone bank, register voters, and host their own voter education parties.
Many of these victories were unprecedented in Washington.
“We found people really receptive to the idea of that this is how they exercise their rights and have a voice,” said Henry. “We saw a lot of citizens voting for the first time in their lives. … From what we’ve seen, it’s made an enormous impact.”
In a recent exit poll jointly conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense Fund (AALDF) and the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD), Asian Americans showed strong especially in close races. The findings cited the close Washington state gubernatorial race as an example where a fast-growing population of Asian Americans made a difference.
“We’d like to think that our efforts showed and paid off in putting Jay over the top,” said Henry.