There’s something special happening in King County this year: election materials will be provided in Vietnamese. This provision was triggered in King County because more than five percent of all voting age citizens are Vietnamese-speaking. “Oh really?” asked an elderly Vietnamese woman when I told her. She was excited to be able to read and understand the information on her ballot.
It was a Sunday morning and I was at the Vietnamese Church during service registering new voters for the upcoming election. I spoke with hundreds of people that morning and could see the mental calculus circulating in their heads each time we talked: register to vote, go into the warm church, or buy a Vietnamese sandwich from the vendor. Church attendance and sandwich sales increased that morning.
But that didn’t discourage me. Unlike your average car salesman who spit out mouthfuls of flashy gimmicks and empty promises, I was providing citizens the opportunity to vote for their elected representatives–who in turn are full of flashy gimmicks and empty promises. I also have the added advantage of knowing what makes Vietnamese people tick thanks to my bicultural background. “It’s free to register,” I told a couple leaving service. Their eyes lit up. Vietnamese never say no free–often time they will take three for themselves, bring some home to their family, and put any leftovers in a box under their bed. Vietnamese people love free.
“That’s right!” I replied with a wink and a smile to a crowd gathering around our voter registration table. “Step right up folks, register to vote here. Your voice is your vote.”
“Does it cost anything to vote?” asked one man.
“Absolutely not sir. Sign up today and take two registration forms to take home for your children. This deal won’t last forever.”
In 2012, only 24% (77,400) of the 330,000 Asians living in King County were registered to vote. Of this percentage, a quarter of them (19,708 individuals) actually voted in the 2012 Primary. That’s 6% of Asians that are making the decisions for all Asians in King County. Regretfully, I am a part of this statistic. I forgot to mail in my ballot during the 2012 Primary. If you’re angry, subscribe to my blog and leave a comment expressing your frustration (tell all of your friends to do the same).
In reality, these numbers only tell part of the story. The truth is our Asian community has never really been asked to vote nor provided the resources (e.g., translated ballots) needed to make an informed decision. We also don’t receive the same attention as other groups nationally because some people assume Asians are a model minority. Pundits point to icons like Jeremy Lin, Gary Locke, and half of Tyson Beckford (Chinese/Jamaican) as proof. But what most people fail to realize is that we also have half of Rob Schneider (Filipino/Jewish). It’s scary! Equally scary are Southeast Asians who continue to fall far behind on education achievement and income, and experience higher rates of crime. These issues are certainly worth voting for, which was why I was out on a Sunday morning at a time when I’m usually at home in bed.
“Excuse sir, would you like to register to vote?” I asked another gentlemen.
“No, I’m too lazy.” He chuckled and walked off.
“I’ll register!” called out a woman walking up to our table. I thanked her when she finished. “No, I should be thanking you.” She’s looking forward to receiving her new Vietnamese ballot.
We registered over 300 voters in 11 days.
There is something special happening in King County this year.