Tag Archives: election 2020

Desis In the House!

Democracy was under siege in the last four years as the Trump administration took a wrecking ball to free and fair elections, human rights and the rule of law.

The divisive politics that polarized our country climaxed in the appalling spectacle of an enraged mob invading the Capitol to reclaim a ‘stolen election’, followed by the deaths of five people in the riot, and a group of lawmakers refusing ratify the electoral college results.

And yet, despite the chaos over the voting process that preceded the election in the middle of a pandemic, the nation flexed its collective democratic muscle in Election 2020, and set a record for the highest turnout in over a century.

Democracy prevailed. People asserted their will, and the results were historic, especially for multi-ethnic, multicultural America. High turnouts by voters of color proved decisive and gave Joe Biden the edge in this election,

More than 159 million Americans cast their vote. Among them, Asian Americans – the fastest growing ethnic group in the country according to a Pew study, who made up at least 5% of these eligible voters, with more than 1.8 registered Indian American voters nationally.

Kamala Harris, a woman of color with African American and Indian American heritage became the first ever woman elected to the office of Vice President of the United States

A record 51 women of color were elected to serve in the next 117th Congress.

People of color now represent 28% of the House, including 16 Asian Americans. Indian Americans had reason to celebrate as their ranks include Ami Bera and Ro Khanna (D) CA, Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) IL, and Pramila Jaypal (D) WA, all of whom were re-elected to the House of Representatives.

And, in a new record for the Indian American community, at least 20 Indian Americans, including 13 women, have been named to senior posts in the incoming Biden-Harris administration.

Click this LINK to see who they are!

https://youtu.be/rF3TVDOzl5Q

Undoubtedly these numbers mirror the growing ethnic diversity within the Asian American electorate. And, even though Indian Americas constitute just over 1% of the US population, their inclusion in the new administration reflects the surge of Indian Americans informing the national dialogue as they participate in civic engagement, US politics, advocacy and community activism.

Indiaspora founder M R Rangaswami  told PTI, “The dedication that the Indian-American community has shown to public service over the years has been recognized in a big way at the very start of this administration! I am particularly pleased that the overwhelming majority are women. Our community has truly arrived in serving the nation.”

In 2020, on Indian Independence Day, Joe Biden had told an Indian American audience,”As President, I’ll also continue to rely on the Indian-American diaspora, that keeps our two nations together, as I have throughout my career.”

And despite the hurdles imposed by voting in an election during the COVID19 lockdowns, this new administration more than reflects that promise.

“We pulled off an election in spite of incredibly powerful forces who wanted to stop brown and black voters from participating,” noted Myrna Perez, Director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program at an Ethnic Media Services briefing on January 8. “We did it in the face of a once in a century pandemic, we did in amidst an economic crisis, and we did it amidst politicians at all levels of government purposely trying to confuse, mislead and lie to voters.”

Civil rights advocates at the briefing cautioned that the insurrection at the Capitol on January 5 signaled a growing ‘whitelash’ against voters of color and that widespread misinformation will continue to undermine the rights of voters, especially from minority communities.

The riots were not an isolated incident warned Judith A. Browne Dianis, a civil rights attorney and co-director of the Advancement Project. The insurrection was about the rise the confederacy and the rise of white supremacy, “These riots were motivated by the same anti-democratic sentiment that inspired lawmakers to challenge November’s election results based on baseless conspiracies and lies and misinformation about voter fraud perpetrated specifically in communities of color, ” she explained.

Dianis also cautioned against restrictions  on the right to vote. “In the wake of the 2020 elections, state lawmakers are already proposing additional restrictions,”  such as the proposal to eliminate ‘no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia, the proposal to stiffen identification requirements in Pennsylvania and tighten standards for signature matches.” But what Dianis is most worried about is disinformation. “We don’t know what the truth is any longer, she said. “How do we make sure that people of color are getting the truth?”

“We need to take precautions to secure right to vote,” said Gabriela D. Lemus, board chair of Mi Familia Vota (MFV).

“As we become more and more successful (as voters), there are more repressive mechanisms.” She emphasized the need to address the lack of infrastructure in many states about educating voters on their rights and accessing ballots in their own language. Lemus pointed out that the media had a big responsibility to ensure that disinformation was held in check in order for ‘democracy to thrive’.

But we also need to invest more resources in the elections, added Perez. She called on the nation to increase preparedness for the next election to ensure that democracy can withstand future threats.

“We cannot be making this up as we go along. There should be protocols!”

Perez reiterated that people cannot take for granted “that we have to fight for the idea that all of our communities deserve a place at the table.”  She urged Congress to pass legislation on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act, to secure the future of the vote.

“We have to make the case every day for a robust, participatory and inclusive democracy.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents

American Democracy Is Not As Fragile As You Think

The past year has been less of a roller coaster ride than a grey fugue the country stumbled through, like a blind man negotiating a highway in the wrong direction. 

At the end of the year, after battling a plague and an economic meltdown, terrible uncertainty and a horrific body count, came the event billed as seismic and life altering – the Presidential election. 

The American public was entrusted with the task of choosing their next leader, someone who would lead the way out of the fugue and escort the blinded country safely across that killer highway to the right side. The build up to the election of 2020 felt cataclysmic: millions of us voted, according to our convictions, which were the strongest they’ve ever been. 

2020 has been the year, when voting felt like you were a contestant in a gameshow, where you had to choose between two doors – behind the right door was the way out to safety and bliss. Make the wrong choice and a trapdoor opens and deposits you into a dark, unending hell. No matter who you supported, the wrong door, according to your beliefs, was a hell trap.

Because of how important I felt this election year was, I volunteered to be an election officer.

After all the votes were counted and the theatrics over election fraud began, it occurred to me that my experience in my official capacity as an election officer gave me a special, grassroots insight into the process.

The process was as clean and flawless as a new born baby. 

It began with my online application. I was then required to fill in an application in person at our local government center building. My ID was checked multiple times and cross checked with what I filled into different forms. I was assigned a precinct close to my home, in my daughter’s old elementary school, and told to report at 5:00 am on election day. I was also required to watch a two-hour training video, since in-person training in the middle of COVID-19 was out of the question.

On Nov 3, at 5:00 am, before the birds began to chirp, we gathered in what was the school gym. Our chief was already there, and the ballot machines stood bulkily in a corner. They required a special procedure to be opened and two of us were assigned to open and activate them. A poll watcher was present and there were at least seven other election officers milling around, prepping the tables and activating the poll pads. 

To try to stuff those machines with fraudulent ballots would be the equivalent of performing a naked tap dance in a kindergarten classroom and hope no one would notice. 

The polls opened at 6:00 am and voting public began to line up at 5:30, spilling out the door into the chill of the morning. There was a festive spirit in the air – people were eager to cast their ballot and make their tiny mark on history.

What really sold me on the experience of being an election officer was how democratic it was. 

There was no bureaucratic hierarchy with the chief barking out orders. We were volunteers -many of the officers were my neighbors. We were ordinary citizens entrusted with making sure the voting process was fair and accurate. 

The momentous, historic nature of the task was not lost on us. We joked about how we would tell our grandkids we worked the polls in the divisive, fateful, 2020 election. All of us took turns at sanitizing the tables after people voted, monitoring the lines, handing out ballots, checking in voters and handling the machines.

Jyoti Minocha with poll workers at her precinct.

When I was checking in voters I realized many were neighbors I had never met. I also gleaned after chatting with my fellow election officers, that some had political leanings which were the antithesis of mine. 

However, whatever our political bent, we were there to work at making our democracy a success – our small precinct was a study in how  people with  political points of view which are about as compatible as a spark in an ammunition dump, are capable of cooperation, in a sane and sensible fashion to further a common good – the right to a free and fair election. 

After months of watching the meltdowns, vitriol and extremism on television, it was a relief to realize that the average American is someone like me, a regular person just trying to do what is right and leave a better legacy for our children.  

At the end of the day after the polls closed, we tallied the ballots with the machine count, and sealed them in boxes which would be sent to the county clerk. There was no scope for tampering: all the officers were present and had to sign off on the final count before the boxes were sealed. 

It was as transparent a process as could possibly be.

I know for sure I’m going to volunteer for every election, going forward. Understanding how the system worked made me realize how important volunteers, the ordinary, everyday people, with no axe to grind and no political connections, are essential to ensuring that this grassroots foundation of democracy is preserved.

 I discovered that America’s democracy is much less fragile than it appears to be. 


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

The Growing Political Power of Indian Americans

Indian Americans are a growing political force who are being wooed as potential donors by Election 2020 presidential hopefuls  – though they represent just over 1% of the US population, Indian Americans have donated more than $3 million so far towards the 2020 presidential campaigns.

Both Democrat and Republican candidates are courting Indian American constituents not just because this second largest immigrant group in the US is growing wealthier, with median household incomes at $107,000,  but also because Indian Americans are successfully permeating the establishment in industry, academia, and other fields, and actively engaging in politics to make their voices heard.

As more Indian Americans from across the political spectrum participate in US politics to advocate for their community’s interests, several political action groups have been formed to promote issues that matter to their members, among them, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT),  the United States India Political Action Committee, and the Republican Hindu Coalition

A 2018 survey confirms that South Asian communities are steadily developing a civic and political network  of ‘voters, donors, elected officials, appointees and public policy advocates’, that is driving engagement in the political process.  The AAPI reports that as more individuals from Asian American communities run for office (over 80 in 2018),  “they engage their network of extended family and friends to become involved.” 

This infrastructure is pivotal in driving voter registration and voter engagement in primary and special elections. Indian Americans, one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, register and vote at high rates, a fact not lost on political contenders trying to claim a portion of the vote share in the upcoming elections. 

In early September, Sen. Kamala Harris used a video tweet to launch her  “South Asians For The People” initiative, to muster support from Indian Americans for her election campaign. She expressed pride in her South Asian heritage and in her grandfather, a freedom fighter who believed that, “all people should be treated equally – regardless of the circumstances of their birth”. 

Maya Humes, a spokesperson for the Harris campaign told India Currents that several Indian American volunteers had revealed “how much Kamala’s run for president means to their community.” Harris’ campaign has set up a hub on its website to bring South Asian supporters across the country together to help them “get to know each other, host events, and spread the word about Harris’ plans to enact bold change within their communities.”

In another event on September 28, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of VP Joe Biden, sought support for her husband’s presidential bid at a fundraiser in Fremont, CA, hosted by tech executive, community leader, and philanthropist Ajay Bhutoria and his wife Vinita Bhutoria. 

Dr. Biden shared her thoughts about stories that “remind us that our differences are precious and that our similarities infinite— that our community, our country, is capable of beautiful and powerful things.” 

Although Indian Americans have traditionally voted Democrat,  (over 62% in an AAPI poll), President Trump has sought and received support from a cohort of Indian American community leaders.

Before the 2016 elections, a video ad sponsored by Chicago-based billionaire Shalabh Kumar, featured then candidate Trump exhorting Indian Americans to vote for him, “Ab ki baar Trump sarkar”. That refrain was repeated at the recent Howdy Modi event at Houston’s NRG stadium in September, which was attended by President Trump.

Adi Sathi, Chief of Staff at the Young Republican National Federation explained that many Indian American business leaders support President Trump’s commitment to tax reform and economic deregulation

At the Howdy Modi event, Trump, who has strategically appointed at least 22 Indian Americans to important government jobs, solicited Indian American support for his re-election bid by highlighting his 2017 tax cuts and business friendly agenda, “I want you to know my administration is fighting for you each and every day.”

In his speech Trump lauded his Indian American audience saying, “You enrich our culture. You uphold our values. You uplift our communities. You are proud to be Americans and we are truly proud to have you as Americans.”

With sentiments like these and the 2020 election in their sights, the quest by presidential candidates for Indian American support symbolizes the potential power and remarkable political influence of this ethnic community in the next US election.

Image source: biden-viks-photography-1835.jpg

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

 

Santa Clara County Introduces New Voting System

Big changes are coming to the ballot box for the 2020 Primary elections in Santa Clara County – changes that will affect where you vote and how you vote. 

Santa Clara will join a small but growing number of California counties implementing changes mandated by the California Voter’s Choice Act, which aims to make it easier for voters to vote.  These changes go into effect by the March 2020 primary election, as approved by the County Board of Supervisors in April this year.

While there are concerns that the new system might cause confusion and reduce voter participation, the counties that implemented the new model in November 2018 election saw turnout increase by 12 to 19 percent, according to a survey conducted by the Santa Clara County Registrar’s staff. However, several counties statewide saw an increase in turnout which could be attributed to the current political climate. 

Here is what you need to know about the New Vote Center starting with the March 2020 primary election:

  • If you are a Santa Clara resident, instead of casting a ballot at one of nearly 850 neighborhood polling places, you will be able to go to any of 125 voting centers throughout the county, open for multiple days to give you a larger window to cast your ballot
  • The Vote Centers will be equipped with an electronic book that lets poll workers see whether a person has voted at any other location across the county or submitted a vote-by-mail ballot.
  • If you need a replacement ballot, or a ballot in another language, you can have one printed for them on the spot.
  • Every voter will also be automatically sent a vote-by-mail ballot, regardless of whether they signed up for one.
  • Voters can also register to vote at the center at the last minute. 

Santa Clara county residents will also be using an all-new voting system for the 2020 Primary elections with the goal of increasing participation and election security.  

Each Vote Center will have a minimum of three ADA-compliant ballot-marking devices that include a touchscreen tablet and individual printer. These devices provide a simple and intuitive interface for voters.  After marking a ballot on the touchscreen, voters will print the ballot in their voting booth. The voters deposit their paper ballot into the ballot tabulator which will warn the voter about potential errors, allowing the voter to correct the error.

Election Night results will come much faster for the voters because the new system allows for counting at each Voter Center.  Previously, all the ballots were sent to the Registrar’s main office for tabulation. 

The California Secretary of State’s Office has undertaken exhaustive and extensive end-to-end testing to certify the security of the new system. The new voting system is not connected to the internet and cannot receive or transmit any electronic election data.

Fair and free elections are a hallmark of American democracy and the American people’s trust in their government is contingent on their confidence in the election process.   Registrar of Voters, Shannon Bushey thinks that voters will like the new system. “We are looking forward to this change,” she said “….and we appreciate the increase in performance and processing speed the new voting system will bring, as well as its stringent vote-security measures.”

For more information on these changes, contact the Registrar of Voters’ Office at 1-408-299-VOTE (8683) or toll-free at 1-866-430-VOTE (8683), or visit www.sccvote.org

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.