Asian Americans more likely to use absentee ballots — and be rejected in Calif.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing electorate in the country, but the group has long faced cultural and systemic barriers to civic participation.
According to a report on voters in California, the group is more likely than the general population to vote by post, but it also has a higher than average rate of absentee votes. Experts say the same is true for the AAPI population across the country.
The United States Postal Service recommended that voters who vote by postal vote post them by Tuesday, one week before the election. However, voters can still drop them off at a local Dropbox.
The AAPI electorate faces myriad postal voting challenges, including language barriers, cultural differences, and confusing electoral laws, said Daniel Jeon, a voting rights attorney with the nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ).
"When there are additional small hurdles to jump over, it is difficult to want to vote," Jeon said, adding that minority language speakers are already having trouble understanding guidelines and identifying candidates on their ballot papers.
For example, in some Asian cultures, people first identify with their last name. Those unfamiliar with western naming conventions have thrown their ballots because their signatures do not match their registration name.
New guidelines in some states are helping to combat the problem. After constituencies sued Georgia in 2018 for its “exact match” policy, which disproportionately harmed language minority groups, the state is now calling on district officials to give voters the opportunity to resolve signature differences within three days of the election. Only 17 other states offer a similar correction process. Elsewhere, ballots returned or rejected have discouraged Asian American voters, Jeon said.
What groups are doing to help voters?
To help people overcome these obstacles, AAAJ set up a six-language hotline and provided polling stations in Asian communities with bilingual staff and translated resources.
While the pandemic kept people indoors, requests for postal votes have increased, according to proponents. Over the past year, grassroots organizations across the country have invested copious amounts of resources in breaking down postal barriers and increasing voter turnout for groups in areas with limited resources. These efforts have produced positive results on the upcoming election night.
"We have seen tremendous engagement from the South Asian community in general this year," said Anjali Enjeti, co-founder of They See Blue, a democratic national coalition focused on mobilizing South Asian voters.
Promoting postal voting is also a way to combat state voter suppression tactics, Enjeti said, although it is necessary to "arm members of the community with as many electoral resources as possible".
The organizers are using WhatsApp to share updates on how ballot papers should be filled out and submitted, as well as relevant information on voter roll cleanings and polling station consolidation. They have also trained election workers and set up an in-language hotline to help first-time voters personally. With the elections less than a week away, members of the Chapter are calling 3,000 voters one at a time to urge them to drop their ballots at the county dropboxes instead of mailing them in.
You can see that Blue's election mobilization campaign also highlights issues that directly impact the South Asian diaspora, such as the Trump administration's tough immigration policies, the attack on Obamacare, the mistreatment of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the use of xenophobic rhetoric. When Georgian Senator David Perdue mocked Senator Kamala Harris's name at a rally, the incident sparked heated discussion on the group's social media pages.
The Chicago-based National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum has tracked AAPI women requesting postal ballots in five swing states: Illinois, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Georgia. In 2018, nearly 90 percent of Asian women said the stakes were too high not to vote, but a third said they encountered obstacles in doing so, according to a new survey by the organization.
"We have tried to rigorously combat misinformation and vet people when they have requested ballots to make sure they have received or gone through them," said national field director Vivien Tsou, who added that recruiters were increasing this year than 26,000 calls made.
Dozens of telephone bankers from the women's forum, speaking a total of 15 languages, contacted each registered voter three to five times to inform them of the change in deadlines and to provide technical support. Recently, in Indiana, they helped several constituencies submit new ballot requests after their initial requests were ignored. In Georgia, a group of key organizers trained volunteers to correctly fill out ballots so they could train members in their ward.
In Minnesota, home to the country's largest Hmong diaspora, the Asian American Organizing Project has used youth-oriented multimedia campaigns to educate younger voters about postal voting.
Image: Serena Hodges (Courtesy Serena Hodges)
"Due to Covid-19, we had to switch to online engagement and organization," said managing director Linda Her. This month the organizers held a lively one-hour Facebook tutorial to conclude the vote.
The group's civic engagement campaign is based on "relationship organization," she said. Younger members have been trained to translate voting materials for family members and friends who do not speak English well, and to help them identify ballots from a flood of other campaign mailers. For the next few days, they will be members of the telephone banking community to ensure that their ballots are submitted or stamped before Monday.
Efforts like this can significantly lower mailing barriers and increase the overall turnout of AAPI voters, said Christine Chen, executive director of the bipartisan organization Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote.
She also noted that the turbulent events of the past year - the pandemic, the protests against the Black Lives Matter, and the forest fires in the west - have driven more people to volunteer. "The only way we can live on the hotline for several weeks," she said, "is to have more volunteers ready to sign up and help."
However, the battle for visibility doesn't end on November 3rd, she said, adding, "It's really about making sure we're represented and our voices are heard on political decisions."
Read more from NBC Asian America's "Shift" election series.
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