Tag Archives: AAPI Data

Why The Senior Vote Matters!

Senior citizens have always been a very reliable voting bloc in the United States.  We assume that this is because they have the time to go vote.  While that might be somewhat true, the fact is that retired people are most vulnerable to any policy changes made by the government.  When Social Security constitutes a sizable part of your income and Medicare is your only option for health care, voting is much more than just your civic duty – it becomes the most important thing you must do to maintain your quality of life.

Just like all older voters, older Asian Voters are more likely to be registered and to vote. They reliably show up to the polls to vote in larger numbers than their younger brethren.  Infact, in presidential elections, voter turnout is even higher for foreign born Asians than those that are U.S. born.

According to the National Survey of Older Voters During COVID-19: Asian Americans, conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of AARP, although 86% are “very likely” to vote in 2020, the majority of Asian American voters 50+ are not being engaged or contacted by either party affiliation (61%) or community organizations (74%), according to (AAVS).

This data is so puzzling but what does this mean and how does this impact this large voting bloc?  It means that this group is invisible.

When you think of a Asian American voter, your mind immediately conjures up a 30 something year old, highly educated person with a good paycheck; painting a picture of a young, educated, middle class person.  This image belies the fact that many of these voters are senior citizens or at least 50+ and this is the demographic that AARP  (American Association of Retired Persons) is interested in.

Turning 50 is life changing in many ways, but the significance of that particular number becomes even more acute when you receive your welcome package from AARP.  I am not old and I am certainly not retiring anytime soon you think and you are right.  But AARP is not just for old, retired people.

AARP is working to have your (50+)  voice heard on the issues that matter to this demographic.  Protecting social security and medicare, lowering prices of prescription drugs, and ensuring your right to vote safely among many other issues. While these might not be issues that are top of mind for you at 50, you know it will be very soon.

Speakers at the Oct 21 AARP briefing released new findings from recent national surveys exploring the key priorities and concerns of Asian American voters aged 50 and older. Results from the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey (AAVS), conducted by AAPI Data on behalf of AARP, APIAVote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, show that 93% of Asian Americans 50-plus view health care as important heading into the election, making it the top most important issue. Jobs and the economy follow as the second most important issue, with 89% of respondents citing them either as “extremely” or “very” important.

With over 50k+ nursing home deaths and the disproportionate vulnerability of our elders to the current pandemic, these survey results are not surprising. COVID-19 has underscored the importance of healthcare as a voter issue and has caused a sense of insecurity related to the economy, health, freedom from discrimination, elections and voting.

Additional findings from the survey on 50+ AAPI (Asian American & Pacific Islander)  – which is the category under which South Asians voters are aggregated include:

  • Plurality of older Asian voters identify as Democrat but the majority describe themselves as moderate.  They are more united around ideology than around a party affiliation.

  • Older asian voters value opportunity and freedom.  They also value entrepreneurial spirit, respecting people with different ideologies and have a greater willingness to accept refugees.

  • Majorities of older Asian American voters support action for equality and equity and agree that there is racial and ethnic discrimination in this country.

  • 50+ Asian voters have become more progressive since the 2016 elections.

  • Over 75% of the older Asian voters get their election information from traditional media and about 42% from talking to their family.

If the 50+ Asian voter is so engaged and likely to vote, why are they not on the radar for either party? 

One piece of data that is striking is this :  85% of 50+ Asian American voters are foreign born. One reason for this opportunity gap is the need to reach out in different languages in order to communicate effectively with this community.

But the larger reason for this lack of engagement is education about the numbers and their impact.  “They don’t pay attention if there is no data,” says Daphne Kwok of AARP.  “But now we are proving that this cohort is an important part of the electorate.  For the political parties, it is so key that they start to hear from AAPI 50+” continues Kwok.  Our issues and concerns have to be raised and addressed.

“We have seen over the past election cycles, more and more AAPIs getting involved politically, voting, and hopefully our voice is starting to become louder.”  Kwok is also optimistic because it has also been proven in the last election that AAPIs have become the margin of victory in many races. Hopefully this is the incentive both parties see to reach out to this voting bloc that could make a difference for their candidate.

So let’s get out the Vote in our 50+ community.  Each state has different rules, different timelines, and different procedures.

Everything you need to know to vote safely is at aarp.org/election2020  and APIAvote.org.

Older voters are more likely to vote in person.  If there is a vulnerable senior citizen in your family, please take the proper precautions but help them make their vote count.

We can’t afford to let anyone’s vote go uncounted.


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

image: BBH Singapore on Unsplash

The Virus Is Hurting Your Vote

Will your vote be counted as we move to mail-in-voting this election year? The odds may not be in your favor.

The advent of COVID-19 has disrupted an already contentious US election cycle and precipitated conditions that could derail the voting process in Election 2020.

“Sizable shares of the population may not be able to vote safely in 2020,” said Dr. Nathaniel Persilly, a Stanford University law professor and political scientist, at a media briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 21. The pandemic is forcing a massive shift in the way people cast their vote in the next few months as local jurisdictions reshape voting processes that could vary significantly across the country, a changeover that could potentially disenfranchise millions of voters.

“Without the political will to steer the electorate in a new normal balloting system, the pandemic will determine who votes and how they vote,” cautioned Dr. Persilly, who runs the Healthy Elections Project at Stanford.

By March it was clear that the pandemic was going to severely impact the election.  Tens of millions of people accustomed to voting by mail or at a polling station would need to move to a new voting system different than it has been historically. Changing how 50 to 60 million people vote in the midst of a relentless pandemic and a dysfunctional voting process could cause a crisis in American democracy, that particularly affects minorities and communities of color, said experts at the briefing.

L-R: Andrea Miller, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Terry Ao Minnis, Dr. Nathaniel Persilly

Will the American electorate be able to safely cast their vote in the next general election? Panelists agreed that conflicting factors make that outcome uncertain. Retrofitting the voting process is complicated by the lack of money and time needed for that transition, noted Dr. Persilly, because “we have three months not three years to deal with it.”

Congress appropriated $400 million to states to address election challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that is not nearly enough said Dr. Persilly, calling it “a fraction – ten percent – of what is needed to pull off this election.”  In addition, the decentralization of the US electoral infrastructure has placed critical decisions about voting in the hands of over ten thousand local jurisdictions  and produced a fractured voting system.

It will be a challenging task to implement a pandemic-proof election when election officials are constrained by the absence of a national election strategy, inadequate funding, a postal service under duress and a record shortage of poll workers.

Power the Polls are reporting that voting facilities need 250,000 new poll workers to work the election. Most poll workers are over 60 and at risk due to the coronavirus. A new generation of poll workers is long overdue, remarked Dr. Persilly, suggesting the recruitment of a new workforce aged 18-20, adept at using technology and digital voting equipment, and who should receive ‘hazard pay’ of $300 a day to work the voting frontlines in the midst of a raging pandemic.

The  Pandemic Affects Voters of Color

A major concern during the pandemic is the threat to voter access for communities of color who represent a rising proportion of voters in both the 2020 presidential elections and in many swing states. The immigrant vote experienced “big jumps in voter tun out between 2014 and 2018,”  said Karthick Ramakrishnan of AAPI Data, noting that 28% of registered, foreign born voters are Asian Americans.

But experts say the logistics of moving to mail-in voting during the pandemic will threaten voter access  in communities of color.

“If they held an election tomorrow, 1.3 million voters will not be able to vote,” said Andrea Miller of Reclaim Our Vote. Certain states could exploit the pandemic to enforce voter suppression and voter intimidation strategies and prevent voters of color from casting their ballot. Miller confirmed that a concerted effort to block certain demographics from voting “is most definitely planned.”

Of 245 million age-eligible voters in the US, “48 million are unregistered or inactive,” explained Miller, referring to people once on the active voter list but who lost the right to cast a legal ballot. In southern and western states which maintain voter rolls, voters can be removed (deemed inactive/moved to the ‘inactive list’ and then to ‘unregistered’ status), for not having voted in a specific number of federal elections.

Source: Andrea Miller, Reclaim Our Vote Campaign  (NGP-VAN)

Currently 16.6 million community of color voters have been dropped from the voter rolls for Election 2020, said Miller, condemning the “severe bait and switch’ tactics used to manipulate and suppress unsuspecting voters.

People believe when they initially register to vote that its ‘forever’  explained Miller. The registration process does not make it clear they will be removed from voter rolls if they miss voting in certain election cycles. Recipients often miss the fine print on postcards reminding them to reconfirm their registered voter status – a requirement that “ought to be in big red letters on front of the postcard,” stated Miller.

Often it’s too late for ‘unregistered ‘voters on election day. Voter suppression states tend to have strict photo ID requirements and do not offer same day registration or automatic registration to ‘inactive;’ voters. In Texas, voters can be “unregistered’ for not renewing voter registration after two years.  “Texas makes no bones about this,” said Miller. “If you do not vote consistently, after two federal elections, they will begin the process of removal from voter rolls.”

Historically, vote by mail has been a ‘white process.’ Communities of color moving to mail in votes could have their ballots challenged if a signature does not match the one on file or is missing altogether.  Votes are less likely to be counted if their authenticity is challenged warned Dr. Persilly, urging voters to verify mail-in ballots at drop off voting facilities. “ A signature could derail your vote.”

Voters with limited English proficiency find the voting process daunting, added Terry Ao Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), pointing out that three in four Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home and find the language in voting materials too complex to understand.

Ao Minnis reminded participants that the Voting Rights Act (Section 203) gives members of a language minority group the right to language assistance in the form of native language ballots, translator written materials, and multilingual poll workers.  Section 208 mandates that they can choose a friend or relative to assist with the voting process. But many voters are unaware of their voting rights.

AAJC has developed in-language translated materials to explain how Asian Americans can exercise their right to vote and run a hotline (888 API Vote or 888 2374 8683) in English and 8 Asian languages that includes Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.

An Election Like No Other

Despite a rise in voter turnout, data from an ongoing AAPI survey shows both political parties have paid scant attention to the AAPI community. Director Ramakrishnan reported that 56% of respondents said they had no contact from the Democratic party or from Republicans (59 %). Targeted voter messaging is key to voter engagement and participation, said Ramakrishnan, emphasizing the need for ‘visually appealing outreach material’ that is demographically representative and culturally relevant.

Messaging via multiple touchpoints – door-door, phone calls, mailings or trusted messengers – should alleviate fears about COVID exposure and reinforce that drop off voting is safe, urged Ramakrishnan. Voter messaging must also counter misconceptions about fraud and explain tracking and verification processes. Failure to do so could reduce turnout and people will refrain from voting by mail, warned Ramakrishnan. In 2018, districts flipped in key congressional elections which have significant AAPI population “so really there should be  more outreach to immigrants,” he added.

The Asian American electorate is energized but “our community has yet to maximize our voting power,” said Ao Minnis.

In an election year like no other, more than voting rights are at stake for communities of color. If the pandemic determines who gets to vote and how in Election 2020, it will fundamentally change the practice of democratic elections and reshape the face of the American electorate.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Images: Healthy Elections Project; Ethnic Media Services

California’s Diversity Makes Accurate Census Difficult

California’s rich diversity of ethnic populations makes an accurate census count extremely challenging, says Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and director of AAPI Data.

“California’s diversity is the source of our strength. There’s a lot that we gain from having the kind of racial diversity. At the same time, those factors make it more challenging to count,” said Ramakrishnan, who serves as the associate dean of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy, and professor of public policy and political science.

Ramakrishnan cited a lack of in-language resources, geographic diversity, including populations living in rural areas, and first-generation immigrants who may not understand the census process or its importance as barriers to getting an accurate count of California’s population.

Many immigrants also fear the information they share on the nine-question form may be shared with immigration enforcement authorities or the Internal Revenue Service. “It’s important to reassure them that all of the information they provide is protected by law,” and not shared with other agencies, said Ramakrishnan.

“The census is constitutionally mandated by the US Constitution to make sure that every person counts. So this includes citizens as well as non citizens regardless of their immigration status or what kind of visa that they have,” he said.

Reaching the Asian American Pacific Islander population poses some unique challenges, said the researcher, noting that a large percentage of the population of California are first generation AAPIs with limited English language proficiency.

“So it’s so important for us to make sure that we are reaching out to them in a language that they understand and that we’re using trusted messengers, people that they trust from their faith-based associations to nonprofits that serve them so that they can be reassured that this information is protected,” said Ramakrishnan.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducted a survey of Asian Americans, Blacks, Hispanics and whites two years ago.Two-thirds of Asian Americans surveyed said they were extremely to somewhat concerned that their data would be used against them.

About 43 percent of AAPIS surveyed said they would not likely fill out the Census form. Only 22 percent said they were familiar with the Census.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it harder to reach populations that have had a history of non-participation. “The disease and the economic fallout are hurting communities that are least likely to be counted by the census,” said Ramakrishnan, advocating for investments in health care and economic assistance for vulnerable communities.

Census data, collected every 10 years, is used to allocate federal resources and accurate representation in Congress. Businesses also use data from the decennial survey to determine where to set up shop.

As of early July, more than 46 percent of California households had filled out their Census forms, according to the California Census 2020 Campaign. San Mateo County had the highest response rate in the state, with over 72 percent of residents returning the survey, which can be mailed in or filled out online. Enumerators do go door to door to reach households who have not filled out their census forms.