By Rick Polintan, APACE President
Seattle and Washington are home to one of the strongest AAPI communities in America. For generations, we have worked to build vibrant neighborhoods, parks, and businesses that reflect our history and dedication. Together, we contribute to Seattle and our own community, honoring the sacrifices of our parents and their parents before them. Yet, we are barely represented in government; our diverse perspectives are largely missing from the political conversation. The root of this problem is voter participation: Asian Americans are under-engaged in politics, and our state’s voting system does not do enough to encourage our participation.
However, there are real, effective solutions we can and must pursue.
The freedom to vote is at the heart of America’s democracy. We are told that every American, regardless of ethnicity, income, ability, gender, or birth is guaranteed the right to vote. A strong democracy is created when many voices come together to find solutions that work for their society. By seeking out different opinions, we are better informed and equipped to face the problems before us. AAPI people, like any other group, deserve a say in politics. Our problems, such as the gentrification of our neighborhoods and the social services provided for our elders, must be taken seriously by those we elect. They will not be until the legislators who claim to represent us are actually accountable to us — and to do that, we must be responsible to elect those people ourselves. But we cannot do it alone.
Washington state has an innovative, mail-in voting system. We should continue to seek out creative solutions so that our voting system encourages more people to participate. The state could hold voter education sessions and disperse voter pamphlets in more non-English languages. More ballot boxes could be added in rural areas.
Postage for all ballots could be paid. These solutions would go far in addressing voting challenges for both our community and others across the state. But one key voting policy has yet to be passed here in Washington: Automatic Voter Registration.
Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) is a policy that is proven to lead to more representative governments. It allows eligible people to register to vote or update their current address when they interact with a government agency such as the Department of Licensing.
Because it is a modern system, it is extremely secure and keeps voter rolls accurate. In the ten states that have approved AVR, it has been enormously successful. In Oregon, more than 375,000 new eligible voters were registered through AVR. As a whole, Oregon’s voter rolls are now more representative of their population, with more low-income voters, rural voters, and voters of color able to participate in elections. For people who are busy, like parents and small business owners, this convenient process would encourage them to be involved. For recent immigrants who may have difficulty understanding the complexities of the voting system, AVR is a simple way to get started. Washington should follow the lead of many other states in our nation and pass this powerful policy.
Voting is a critical responsibility. Many of us immigrated to Seattle from places where we were not able to vote, or from regions whose governments did not encourage participation. The ability to make our voices heard is powerful and must be taken seriously. But the burden of voting does not rest entirely on our shoulders. Our government also has a responsibility to make sure that its people can access the voting system in a way that works with their lives. If we want to honor the work of generations past and create a better future for our children, we need to stand up now to ensure that voting is accessible to every Asian American.