Historic Wins For Asian Americans In November 2021 Elections

AALDEF volunteers poll Asian American voters at an elementary school in Queens, New York

In  historic firsts, several Americans of Asian descent were voted into office in the November 2  general election.

They included Michelle Wu the first woman, first person of color, and first Asian American to be elected mayor of Boston, Massachusetts.  In Hamtramck (MI), which issued election materials in Bengali for the first time, Amer Ghalib was elected as the city’s first Muslim and first Yemeni American mayor, securing 68% of the vote.

In New York City, Shekar Krishnan and Shahana Hanif became the first South Asians elected to New York City Council, and Linda Lee became the first Korean American elected to NYC City Council.

“As the nation’s fastest growing racial group, Asian Americans are playing an increasingly vital role in determining electoral outcomes, running for office in record numbers and winning elections. said Jerry Vattamala, Director of  the Democracy Program at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).

AALDEF was founded to protect and promote the civil rights of Asian Americans. On Tuesday’s election, volunteers from AALDEF  surveyed more than 2500 Asian American voters in five states (Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia) on Tuesday’s election. The nonpartisan, multilingual exit poll surveyed voters in English, as well as six other Asian languages (Bengali, Chinese, Khmer, Korean, Nepali, and Vietnamese).

“Each year it becomes even more apparent that Asian Americans make up an important and growing part of the electorate. This survey helps us better understand the issues that are important to Asian American voters and where they stand on critical policy questions,” said Margaret Fung, Executive Director of AALDEF.

A total of 257 AALDEF volunteers, including attorneys and students participated in  the survey. They observed a number of voter problems, including poll workers being insufficiently trained to adequately serve voters, improper requests for identification, incorrectly informing voters that they were at the wrong poll site, when they were not, prohibiting voters from bringing palm cards with them inside the poll site and malfunctioning ballot marking devices.

Our attorneys and volunteers were absolutely vital to capturing this important story,” said Vattamala.

Volunteers also monitored poll sites to ensure compliance with the language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act and to guard against anti-Asian discrimination and intimidation.

In Hamtramck, AALDEF attorneys monitoring the polls noted a significant improvement from prior elections, including the August 2021 primary election. Though some adjustments to the website and translations of candidate names on the ballot are still needed, it appears that the city is now substantially complying with their obligations under the  Consent Decree ordered in July 2021, from a federal lawsuit filed by AALDEF, and the requirements of Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act .

AALDEF will continue to monitor elections in this jurisdiction, and others, to ensure full compliance with their language assistance requirements so that limited English speaking citizens may vote.

“Growing up, I had to go to the polls to help my parents translate the ballots,” said Farhana Aktar, daughter of Rahima Begum, a plaintiff in the AALDEF lawsuit, who won the right to cast her vote for the first time in Bengali.

“Language barriers were a major issue for many Bengalis. Because of the Consent Decree, Tuesday’s election was different.”

“It was wonderful to see the Bengali signs and ballots, and old and young men and women from the Bengali community coming together and working as bilingual poll workers, interpreters, and greeters at polling places where there were almost none last year.”

“I am hopeful that the change helped many people who have previously struggled to vote. This was the help our community needed to vote.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

Image: AALDEF

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