In 2016, I was careless with my vote. At the time, I lived in New Delhi, and mostly, I did what I was supposed to do: I printed my ballot, filled it out and dropped it off at the American Embassy in a wooden box labeled “Vote Here.” Since I turned it in three weeks before the deadline, I figured it would probably arrive in time to be counted. But even if it didn’t, I wasn’t worried. I was voting in a blue state. Every poll I read reassured me that Hillary Clinton would be our next president. I thought our victory was assured.
It wasn’t until the morning of Nov. 9, when I watched a map of the United States turn a stubborn, bloody red, that I remembered to check the status of my ballot and found, to my horror, that it had not been received. I wanted to rage against the droves of white voters who had assured Donald Trump’s victory, but I didn’t let myself. How could I condemn their action, when my inaction was part of the problem?
It turns out that I am not alone. I am Asian American, which means that I’m part of the fastest-growing electorate demographic in the country: Over the past two decades, the number of eligible Asian American voters has risen by 139%.However, though our voter rolls may be growing, our participation is shrinking. Pew research reports that on average, only about 30% of Asian American voters exercise their franchise, a rate significantly lower than that of white (64%) and Black people (57%). Researchers at AAPI data attribute low voting rates to a variety of factors, including the fact that political parties rarely reach out to our demographic, since we’re such a small population, or because many of our community members with limited English proficiency lack materials in their mother tongues. The real story, could, unfortunately, be much less flattering: According to Pew Research, over one third of Asian American respondents said they didn’t vote simply because they were “too busy.”
This November, Asian Americans cannot afford to be too busy. That’s because this November, we are literally voting for our lives.
As a result of COVID, Asian American deaths are up by 35% this year; the only population exceeding this rate is Latinos. In Nevada, Asian Americans are dying of COVID at twice the rate of white people, and in San Francisco, we account for more than half of COVID deaths. Under the current administration’s confused and ineffective public health policies, this trend may very well continue: Asian Americans make up a disproportionately large number of essential workers on the front lines, making us one of the most exposed, and therefore the most affected, demographics.
Beyond the pandemic, Trump’s xenophobic, racist policies continue to put us at grave risk. Almost 2 million Asian Americans are undocumented — the majority of whom live in California — making them vulnerable to the administration’s increased policing. Immigrants who are apprehended are currently detained in centers where COVID outbreaks continue to claim an unacceptable number of lives. But even citizens are at risk. This year alone, Asian Americans have registered almost 2,000 hate crimes against themselves, and the Crisis Text Line saw a 39% increase in traffic from Asian Americans requesting emergency psychological support. Like our fellow Black, indigenous and people of color, Asian Americans cannot afford another four years of the brutality of this administration’s disregard for our survival.
Although Asian Americans represent only about 4% of the U.S. electorate, recent races prove that our population is large enough to swing the upcoming election. According to U.S. News and World Report, in 2016, Clinton lost Michigan by 13,080 votes. There are 173,486 Asian American voters in the state, the majority of whom identify as Democrats; had they voted in large numbers, Clinton could have won. The same trend held true in states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Ohio. This past year, in California, Asian Americans were instrumental in delivering Bernie Sanders’ victory in the primary. Our numbers may be small, but our voice is loud.
This year, we Asian Americans must turn out in greater numbers than ever before. We must register. We must make a voting plan, including how we are going to acquire our ballots, where we are going to turn in our ballots, and how we are going to ensure that our ballots are counted. We cannot be too busy to fight for ourselves. We cannot be too busy to fight for each other. The future of our community, and our country, depend on it.