Updated: Feb 6
Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the United States are growing their political power, one election and vote at a time. As we see more civic engagement and political activism and organizing from the AAPI community, particularly among younger AAPIs, the AAPI electorate will be a critical voice as they help shape the future of our country, state, and communities. In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we’ll explore the history and growing power of the AAPI vote in America.
History of the AAPI Vote
Asian American and Pacific Islanders historically immigrated to the United States under the promise of the Gold Rush, the escape from economic hardship, and new opportunities in the guise of the “American Dream”. However, they have not enjoyed the full right to vote as other American citizens for the longest time, and they also experienced racist and discriminatory practices. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 specifically prohibited Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens and voting.
Even as the 19th Amendment granted suffrage to women in 1920, AAPI women were often excluded from this right to vote since they were still denied citizenship by the federal government. In 1925, the U.S. federal government started granting voting rights to Filipino men who served in WWII for three years. After that point, the government gradually naturalized more and more Asian immigrants.
It wasn’t until the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 that all restrictions on Asian immigrants becoming naturalized citizens were finally lifted, allowing all Asian Americans to fully become citizens and exercise their right to vote. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 further expanded Asian-American voting rights by adding protections and accommodations for voters with limited English, such as access to translators and ballots in multiple languages.
Power in Future Elections
The AAPI electorate is a small but formidable and growing community with the power to shape and influence future elections. The AAPI community is one of the fastest growing racial and ethnic demographic groups in Ohio and across the country. Based on 2020 Census data, people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent now comprise 7.7% of the national population. In Ohio, the Asian population grew by 58.3% and the Pacific Islander population grew by 44.2% between 2010 and 2020.
As OPAWL — Building AAPI Feminist Leadership noted in their redistricting testimony, the number of eligible AAPI voters in Ohio grew by 39% between 2012 and 2018, compared to only a 2% growth for all Ohio voters as a whole. Census data suggests that registered AAPI voters cast their ballots at the highest rate in 2020 of any Census-tracked racial or ethnic group in Ohio.
Asian Americans increased their turnout rate by more than any other racial or ethnic group between the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections. The AAPI vote played a key role in the 2021 Georgia Senate runoffs and will continue to have a growing influence in elections across the country — including in Ohio. Asian American and Pacific Islander voters can no longer be ignored in the political process.
As with any community in a representative democracy, it’s extremely important for communities to have representation and a voice at the table, especially since policymakers and decision-makers at all levels of government make decisions that impact our day-to-day lives. AAPIs need representatives who can be their voice at the table and be in positions of power so that their needs are met and their voices aren’t ignored.
There’s been an increase in AAPI representation in government nationwide, with more than 600 AAPI elected officials at all levels of government across the country. As AAPI voters turn out to vote so that their voices in the political and policy discourse reflect their priorities and needs, we also need to encourage more AAPIs to run and elect them into office.
Protect AAPI Voting Rights
If AAPIs experience voter intimidation or suppression at the polls, there is an Election Protection hotline for English and Asian languages. If you speak Bengali, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, or Vietnamese, you can call 1-888-API-VOTE (1-888-274-8683) for voter help as you are registering to vote, requesting absentee ballots, or experiencing problems at the polls.
To get involved with AAPI electoral organizing work, check out OPAWL — Building AAPI Feminist Leadership. Join the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition to hear updates on the voting landscape in Ohio and how you can take action when the need arises. Follow the Ohio Voter Rights Coalition on Facebook and Twitter and share/retweet our posts!