By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
My young Asian friend who is smart, talented, sweet, and educated, doesn’t vote… And it drives me nuts.
Her reason for not voting is typical of many millennials. More on that later.
I admit some past elections were downright boring and ridiculous with unimpressive candidates, lack of women and people of color, and had wordy, complicated initiatives that everyday people don’t understand.
But 2020 is a hot election year both nationally and locally. And there are so many issues we have to decide on. My ballot is long with 36 items. Every citizen should be excited to vote this year because the next president will determine the direction of our country.
It’s OK if you are not comfortable voting in every category. My friend sent in his ballot with only one item checked–the presidential race. He doesn’t want to vote for issues and candidates he isn’t sure about.
Trump vs. Biden
If you are anti-Trump, this is your chance. And if you voted for President Trump in 2016, and regretted your vote, then vote for the Democrat nominee Joe Biden. You are lucky to have another chance. It doesn’t work that way, sometimes. Oh, if you like what Trump has done for this country the past four years, vote for him again, even if some of your friends might not like it. No worries, no one knows who and what you vote for anyway. Just keep your mouth shut after you fill in your ballot.
For voters who are disappointed by both Republican or Democrat presidential candidates, I feel your contempt. We don’t always get what we want in life. It’s a skill to develop a mindset that we can adapt to a changing and imperfect world.
Important statewide races
Never in our state have there been so many crucial races, from the executive branch of our state government to the judicial branch. Who will be our next governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, attorney general, Commissioner of Public Lands, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Insurance Commissioner? Four out of nine positions on Washington state Supreme Court are on the ballot. Whoever is elected to these positions will shape the future of our state. The destiny of Washington is in the hands of every voter. Whether you are with the winning or losing candidates, the outcome of the election is always fun to see.
This is the year your federal (congressional) and local legislative district representatives are on the ballot. Every two years, you have the right to review whether they have done a good job for you or the community in general. If they have not, just vote the person out.
Remember S. Africa
I would never forget the image of thousands of South Africans lining up to vote for their first free Democratic election in 1994, after apartheid ended.
Some came by wheelbarrows, while some elderly in their 80’s were carried on their children’s back to cast their first vote ever in their entire lifetime. Some didn’t eat the whole day, waiting for the opportunity to cast a historical vote.
Queues and queues were shown through aerial footage. People waited for as long as eight hours to go inside a voting booth. Closer to home, Black people were lynched, beaten, and threatened, and their houses being torched several decades ago, just trying to exercise their right to vote. It’s hard to fathom Americans who are so privileged and don’t care to vote!
I was born in China and raised in Hong Kong, and at the time, I didn’t even know what voting was. I didn’t understand what democracy meant until I came to this country. Many of my Chinese immigrant friends are proud of what our native land has achieved, but when asked if they want to go back to live in China, their response is silence. The Chinese in China would never experience the pride, satisfaction, and joy of voting. The Chinese Communist Party selects leaders of every level, including district, county, province, and representatives in Congress.
We vote because we care. I presume that those who hate voting don’t because they don’t care enough. Being American-born, my non-voting friend has never lived in an oppressive regime, to appreciate why people struggle, fight, and even give up their lives so their fellow citizens could vote. I wish she had a chance to live in a third world country for two years, to learn what it’s like to live under a dictatorship. She just doesn’t have that life experience to develop empathy for others who lack the freedom to vote.
A man named Samuel Cook, who didn’t vote before and did later, wrote on Medium.com, “You don’t vote? Well, I do, and let me tell you why” as the headline.
“There are lots of people in this country who are way more impacted by politics than I am: kids born into poverty, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, people fleeing domestic violence, and so on. I want better things for those people. And how can I say that I support them if I won’t pull over for 10 minutes on my way to work and vote in their interest? How can I look them in the eye if I won’t give them that much?”
The impact question
My non-voting friend’s justification is, one vote doesn’t make any difference out of millions of votes being cast. It won’t change the outcome of an election.
“I don’t vote because I don’t want my activism to be performative, and voting is often performative for millennials,” she wrote me in an email. “I want my activism to be personal, meaningful, deep, and always intentional.
“I get a lot of criticism when I admit that I don’t vote, and nobody who gives me crap over not voting ever wants to have a conversation with me to find out what my logic is or other ways I contribute to the visibility of BIPOC (Blacks, Indigeneous, and people of color) communities. They just assume I don’t care and that my reason is apathy.”
There is an ego issue hidden in these words. Voting is personal, as well as impersonal, but it fulfills the role of doing things for the greater common good.
Whatever you do, there is no need for your voice to stand out above everyone else or let the benefactors know you support them. If that’s the case, you miss the point of voting. My friend is probably pissed at my words.
The purpose of voting is not just about an election outcome. It is a form of freedom of speech. It’s a way to empower people together to decide what is at stake in their own country and immediate environment. The bigger the number of votes, the more validation it will grant to the winner and more weight on the issue. We are in this together by giving our support to the most critical outcomes like the presidential race.
Your participation empowers others and vice versa. It contributes to the strength of democracy and voters’ desire to shape for the wellbeing of the nation.
Why I vote
I confess that I don’t have a perfect voting record. I missed a couple of special elections with only one item on the ballot. Going to the polling station in the morning was not part of our route when I lived in the suburbs. By the time I got off work, I preferred to go home to cook dinner for my kids than going to the polls. Simply, I was too tired to vote.
Those were legitimate excuses for not voting because of work and family responsibilities. But now, there is no excuse for Washingtonians not to vote because all the ballots are mailed. All they have to do is to mail it back. And the postage is already paid for—your tax dollars.
I vote because it is a chance for me to give back to America. It’s an important step to support the Asian community. The government has all the voters’ data such as gender, age, race, and geographical areas. So the public knows how many Asians, whites, and Blacks are voting in each election. Think of how you hurt the Asian community if you forfeit your right to vote, no matter how much you have done for your fellow Asians. Low turnout will instantly demean the Asian community. We will receive less government funding, less respect, less power as a community, and worst, less of a say at the table.
Former network news anchor Connie Chung told Albert Shen, a former Seattleite, “I am coming out” to encourage Asian Americans to vote. As a journalist, she is supposed to be neutral, but has decided to take the risk to speak out because too much is at stake in this election. Her video clip with several Asian-language subtitles, urged Asian Americans to vote.
“Do you know that Asians are least likely to vote? I was surprised,” said Chung.
“And yet our population in the U.S…can make the difference who wins. Our vote can make the difference. People say we should know our place…Our place is in the voting booth. We are proud to be Asian Americans. Be proud to vote. It’s our right.”
As an immigrant, I am proud to have voted for U.S. presidents, senators, Congress members, mayors, county executives, state legislators, and city officials. I have never taken any of my voting rights or privileges for granted.
It’s just too important a responsibility to take lightly.
My example has been carried on to my children, too. I have never explicitly told my American-born sons to vote. When they were kids, one of my sons was apolitical. Now, he cares about politics and voting especially. My other son has always voted overseas since he works abroad. Our government has mailed him the ballot in Asia.
My children understand my voting is a positive message that I appreciate America and I care for its people deeply.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.