By Zachariah Bryan
Northwest Asian Weekly
This year, the Washington State Asian Pacific Islander community will be well represented at the National Democratic Convention.
Seventeen delegates, or around 14 percent of a total of 121 from Washington, will be present, according to Washington State Democrats. However, this is based on voluntary information provided by the delegates, meaning that there could be more.
“I believe that barriers for Asians and Pacific Islanders being represented at the convention are falling down,” wrote delegate Ed Song in an e-mail. “This year, the delegation reached its Asian and Pacific Islander diversity goal even before the PLEO [“super delegates”] and At-large delegate selection process conducted at the State Convention.”
Delegates are elected individuals entrusted to represent territories from all over the United States. Many are pledged to certain candidates based on the outcome of state caucuses, which take place throughout the election year. However, there are also “super delegates,” consisting of party leaders and elected officials (PLEO) who can vote freely. At both the Democratic and the Republican National Conventions, delegates are the ones who vote to officially nominate their party’s candidate.
The total number of API delegates from around the country has not been tallied up yet. Usually, such data is not available until around the time of the convention, and is gathered by nonprofit groups.
The year of 2008 saw a record high with 208 API delegates, or 4.6 percent of the total number of delegates, making it the most diverse Democratic convention to date. The number of API delegates for the Republican convention was not tracked, but was embarrassingly non-diverse and “overwhelmingly white,” according to several news articles published at the time.
The API representation in the Democratic convention is good news, especially when considering that earlier data revealed a low number of API voter registration in Washington. In April, only 51 percent of eligible voters were said to actually be registered to vote, according to the American Pacific Islander American Labor Alliance, though efforts to register more are continually underway.
However, once registered, APIs are more likely than other groups to vote. Five out of six plan to vote in November, according to a national poll conducted in May by the Asian American Justice Center and APIAVote.
For this reason, APIAVote continues to engage the API community. Recently, they held a town hall-styled forum to help educate potential voters about the current candidates. Rep. Mike Honda represented Barack Obama and former Rep. Tom Davis represented Mitt Romney.
The total number of delegates expected to go to the Democratic convention, according to the convention website, could reach 6,000. In 2008, there were more than 4,200 delegates. The number of delegates is based on voter turnout in the two previous presidential elections, which in 2008 was historic, and population, which is ever-increasing.
Though it varies from state to state, delegates are often elected at state caucuses. In many places, it is not particularly hard to be elected, so a lower representation in the API community is more likely due to one of two factors, a lack of engagement from political parties or lack of interest from the API community.
Benton Strong, spokesman for Washington State Democrats, said it was hard to gauge the reason for any fluctuation in representation among delegates. Political interest varies from year to year, he said. He admitted that there was always some question of how effectively communities were engaged in the delegate election process, especially when language barriers are brought into the mix.
APALA states on their website that with each presidential election, the number of API voter registration continues to increase. In 2008, 55.3 percent of eligible APIs were registered to vote.
According to the Pew Research Center study, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” APIs now make up 9 percent of Washington state, or 604,251 out of a total population of 6.7 million.
“The first-ever poll of Asian American voter attitudes shows that close elections in states with significant numbers of Asian American voters … could go to the candidates who best engage Asian Americans, a demographic with increasing political clout,” said a press release from APIAVote after the poll was complete.
But why does it matter that the API community be represented in the delegate system of the National Democratic Convention? And, for that matter, the Republican National Convention, too?
Though the delegates for this year have already been decided, it is pertinent that the API community break any barriers in the way to becoming a delegate. Presidential nominations are largely determined by the delegates at caucuses pledging to one candidate or another. They can make or break a campaign, as has been seen on the Republican side with the failures of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and others.
This means that if the API community is not properly represented in the delegate process, then they are not represented in the overall election. It is also important to have representation at the convention.
“It is important for me personally to be at the National Convention, so that I can do my best to represent … and project the interests and needs of our communities,” wrote delegate Rick Polintan in an e-mail.
The 46th Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 3 through Sept. 6. The Republican National Convention will be taking place in Tampa Bay, Fla., the week prior, on Aug. 27 through Aug. 30. (end)
Zachariah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com.