AAPI Voter Engagement: Educating Voters on Policy Issues Impacting Their Community

with Nadia Nisha Belkin of the Asian American Power Network (AAPN)

Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S. electorate, yet this population continues to face barriers to vote.

Nadia Nisha Belkin, Executive Director of the Asian American Power Network (AAPN), joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to increase Asian American and Pacific Islander voter engagement through door-to-door canvassing and multilingual digital outreach.

Posted on:

May 1, 2023

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: The 2020 presidential election saw the highest increase in voter turnout among Asian American and Pacific Islanders, 47% higher than 2016. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. AAPI voter turnout surged in 2020, but what does the future look like? Joining me to talk about efforts to sustain AAPI voter engagement is Nadia Nisha Belkin, executive director of the Asian American Power Network. Nadia, thank you for being here.

Belkin: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So what were the reasons behind that 2020 surge?

Belkin: We were really excited about the statistic and seeing the immense growth in turnout and engagement for the Asian American community. One of the things that we have seen and are really proud of is this growing grassroots infrastructure. So organizations on the ground that are really key to bringing policy ideas, candidate ideas to the doors of Asian American voters directly. We are a community that is ever-growing. And so we know our electoral power and our political power is really there. One of the biggest barriers that we've seen, however, is a lack of access or a lack of access to the information around voting and what's on the ballot. So our groups play a really critical role as educators, translators, and messengers bridging the democratic process and the policy ideas and bringing them directly to the voters. So that was really an education opportunity to empower our voters at their door.

Anderson: So obviously, the whole mission is to motivate people to the polls. But I'm wondering specifically how you're doing that.

Belkin: In a multitude of ways. We know that our voters are -- can be low English-proficiency voters. They can be first-time voters. So we really want to find them where they are. What does that mean? We use multi-modal programs, so we're knocking on their doors, we're finding them on their cellphones, on their inboxes, even we know that sometimes they get their information on Facebook or YouTube. So we're really trying to find voters where they are to make sure that they have the information they need.

Anderson: And what are some of the issues or policies that are actually motivating this group of people to go to the polls?

Belkin: Yeah, you know, it is a myriad of issues. I'm sure you've seen some of the headlines of late. Crime is a really big one for us. Gun control, the economy, even access to reproductive care. So we are wanting to make sure that our voters understand what the policy agendas are out there and the consequences and benefits for them based on the policy platforms that are available.

Anderson: So I would imagine that one of the barriers for you is to really bring the AAPI community together. It can't be easy. What are some of the challenges you face when doing that?

Belkin: You know, I want to just start by saying that we're not a monolith. Oftentimes we're engaged in that way. But the fact is there are numerous subethnicities that are part of our identity, and we speak a myriad of languages. So we are really trying to make sure that our voters are engaged through culturally competent means, meaning that we're finding them in language, we're doing culturally relevant events for them. And then the other part of it is that we really want to understand the subethnic motivations behind voting. We know not everyone is going to vote the same way. So we really spend a lot of time in community getting to understand how the subethnicities vote. And so that has been a really big component of our work. And one of the key components to our strategy is being on the ground year-round. We know that voting is an exercise. It's a muscle we want to flex. And so by spending time educating voters on these issues, we're able to keep our finger on the pulse of things.

Anderson: I'm glad you mentioned year-round, because I do want to know some of the things that you're doing to turn this group out to the polls in years where there are national races versus years when elections are more local. How does that differ?

Belkin: Yeah, so we are not taking our foot off of the gas. We know that local elections are really important, and the Asian American community is really starting to understand the power that they have electorally. So we want to make sure that when you're talking about what's happening in Congress, you also have that power at the local level. So we do have groups that are actually active in our network right now that are focusing on municipal elections, meaning mayoral elections, city council elections. And we're trying to connect them to the understanding that voting local means a change for you immediately.

Anderson: If the AAPI voting bloc were to be a totally united front, how powerful would that be and what kinds of things would you like to see that group accomplish in '24, '28, and beyond?

Belkin: You know, we are a growing percentage of the electorate. Our overall population, we represent about 6% of the population. And so what we're trying to really remind our voters is the power of their vote and their voice. So if we are able to get all of our voters out to vote, we are -- we can be the margin of victory in some really decisive cases. I think long term, when we look at it right now, Asian Americans, as I said, represent 6% of the population, but only hover about just around 1% of all elected offices from municipal all the way up into the congressional space. So hopefully in the years to come, we will see bigger pipelines, better representation in all different halls of government. We're already starting to see that with the way we're seeing representation in state legislatures in places like in Illinois or Georgia, which is exceptionally exciting for us. But I think long term, we want to see that growth and that representation really continue.

Anderson: So, people are going to want to know more. What's your website? Where should they go?

Belkin: Yes, please find us. We're online and on social media. Our website is www.aapowernetwork.org and on social media, it's @aapowernetwork.

Anderson: Nadia Nisha Belkin of the Asian American Power Network, Thank you for being here.

Belkin: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to you for watching as well. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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