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Asian groups launch voter mobilization campaign for local polls

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Phone Bank Volunteer Rotator (photo courtesy of   www.apalc.org)

Phone Bank Volunteer Rotator (photo courtesy of www.apalc.org)

 LOS ANGELES – With the approach of the May 21 election for the City of Los Angeles, Asian American community groups have developed new resources to assist voters as they decide how to vote at the polls.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), in partnership with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander organizations in Los Angeles, compiled responses from the candidates for mayor, city attorney, and city councilmembers for Council Districts 1, 9, and 13 on issues including affordable housing, education, and the accessibility of job development for working class Asian American communities. The responses are available to view at www.apalc.org.

All candidates were approached three times to respond to the same set of questions. Those who did not submit their response by a given deadline were indicated as “failed to respond.”

In addition to those offices for which APALC collected responses from candidates, voters will also be voting for the city’s next city controller, along with a school boardmember.

“This is the first time the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities have developed candidate questionnaires for the city elections,” said Karin Wang, vice president of programs and communication of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. “We hope this will be a useful tool that voters can use to inform themselves about where the candidates stand on the issues that are important to our communities.”

Among the issues highlighted in the candidate questionnaire is affordable housing and community redevelopment, which has a significant impact on Asian ethnic enclaves such as Thai Town, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and Historic Filipinotown.

“More and more of our community members need affordable housing, but the wait lists are long for people to get a unit,” said Chancee Martorell, executive director of the Thai Community Development Center (Thai CDC). “The city is also undergoing many transformations through different development projects, many in our Asian ethnic enclaves. We want our city elected officials to understand that any developments that happens within the city should provide for good jobs and affordable housing for the communities that have historically lived in those neighborhoods.”

In addition to affordable housing and redevelopment, community groups are also concerned about whether the city will be prepared to improve immigrant integration in the city, given the many barriers that immigrants face to participating in the democratic process. “Many in our immigrant communities face barriers that prevent them from voting or being fully engaged, but have made tremendous economic and cultural contributions to the city,” said Alexandra Suh, executive director of the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance. “We believe it is important for our elected officials to not only serve those that voted for them, but for them to also create ways to increase participation from communities that may have barriers due to immigration status, language, or familiarity with how government works in the city.”

Lifting these barriers is particularly important for the Asian American community, which makes up 8percent of the city’s electorate, with roughly 135,000 Asian Americans registered to vote in the City of Los Angeles during the 2012 general election.

The number of Asian Americans registered to vote in the City of Los Angeles grew 12 percent over the four-year period between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. By comparison, the city’s Asian American population grew 19 percent over a te10-year period between 2000 and 2010.

Among Asian American ethnic groups, Filipino Americans represent the City of Los Angeles’s largest electorate, with over 39,000 registered to vote, accounting for 29 percent of all Asian Americans registered to vote citywide.  Korean Americans are the city’s second largest Asian American electorate, with over 29,000 registered to vote, making up 22 percent of all Asian Americans registered to vote citywide.

“Many assume that voters don’t face the same language barriers that others face. However, polling consistently shows this is simply not the case,” said Deanna Kitamura, senior attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center’s Voting Rights Project. During the 2008 general election, nearly one-third of all Asian American voters in Los Angeles County were limited-English proficient, with a majority of Korean American voters and nearly a majority of Vietnamese American voters being limited-English proficient. Polling also shows that Asian American voters use the language assistance required under the federal Voting Rights Act. A third of Filipino American voters and nearly a third of Chinese American voters used some form of written or oral assistance to vote in 2008.

“It is crucial that community members know that this should not be a barrier for them to vote, since the city is required to provide language assistance to voters that speak Armenian, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese,” said Kitamura.

Those who are not registered to vote may do so by May 6 at http://rtvote.com/Qf65VM in order to vote in the general municipal election.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, is the nation’s largest Asian American legal and civil rights organization and serves more than 15,000 individuals and organizations every year.  Founded in 1983, APALC advocates for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society.  Through direct legal services, impact litigation, policy analysis and advocacy, leadership development and capacity building, APALC seeks to serve the most vulnerable members of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities while also building a strong Asian American and NHPI voice for civil rights and social justice.

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