Converting numbers into votes

Rozita Lee (left) and her friends urge Filipino-Americans to register and vote for the 2012 elections

By Bert Eljera

LAS VEGAS – With their surging numbers, Asian-Americans are now shifting their focus from getting counted to converting those numbers into votes.

As the OCA Asian Pacific American national convention winds down at the Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, discussions have centered on voter registration and other initiatives to make the Asian-American vote count in November.

They say it’s the logical next step after making sure that the community was fully accounted for in the 2010 Census – and the actual numbers become part of the national population data.

“Now, we want that voice expressed in the ballot box,” said OCA National President Ken Lee.

According to the latest census figures, some 14.7 million people- the equivalent of 4.8 per cent of the country’s total population- identified themselves as Asian alone.

Another 2.6 million, or 0.9 per cent, said they were Asian in combination with another race group, most commonly white.

However, despite the documented growth, Asians still don’t make the top three biggest ethnic groups in America: whites are first with 72.4 per cent, then Latinos with 16.3 per cent and African Americans are third with 5.6 per cent.

“Net international migration is the biggest component of the change in the Asian population,” Elizabeth Hoeffel, a Census Bureau spokesman, told London’s Daily Mail.

She said the need for highly skilled workers fuel the population growth in certain regions, such as San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

‘There are also needs in the pharmaceutical, biotech and health industries that fuel Asian immigration, much in the same way the agricultural industry fuels Latino immigration,” said David Lee, the San Francisco Census steering committee head.

Chinese was the largest of all Asian groups (four million, including 700,000 who identified as mixed race), followed by Filipinos (3.4 million) and Asian Indians (3.2 million).

In Nevada, which had the most rapid population surge among all states, Asian-Americans grew by 116 percent, making up approximately 8 percent of the population.

In Virginia, considered another swing state, Asian-Americans now comprise 7 percent of the population, from just 3 percent in 2000.

In Colorado (3.7 percent), Pennsylvania (3.2 percent), Florida (3 percent), North Carolina (2.6 percent), Iowa (2.1 percent) and Ohio (2.1 percent), Asian-Americans can affect the results in a close election.

While voter registration will be a national effort, there will be more emphasis on swing states where Asian-Americans can tilt the balance.

In Nevada, where Asian-Americans now total about 179,000, the goal is to register at least 30,000 new voters, according to Greg Cendana, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.

Speaking at one of the panel discussions at the OCA convention, Cendana, a Filipino-American, said for Las Vegas, the target is 4,000 new voters. There are about 30,000 Filipinos in Las Vegas, the largest Asian group.

However, the voter registration drives are non-partisan. While Nevada Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 58 to 24 percent, a large percentage, 31 percent, are independents or not affiliated with any political party.

One of the spearheads of the voter-registration drive is APIAVote, a non-profit which works with  Asian Pacific Islander communities to emphasize the importance of voting and civic engagement.

Executive Director Christine Chen, a discussion panelist at the convention, said this election year, her group will work with local partners to provide “culturally- and linguistically-appropriate voter education and engagement programs.”

In July, APAIVote released the results of a poll conducted in April that took a comprehensive look at the Asian-American voting population and its preferences at this stage of the campaign.

In Nevada, even though more than half, 54 percent, say they will vote for Obama in November, 29 percent, the largest nationwide, say they could support Romney.

About 31 percent are undecided or independent, indicating a wide opening for the Republican candidate.

“They just need to listen to us,” said Gloria Caoile, a Las Vegas resident, in a recent interview.

“They need to come to Nevada, listen to the people, see how the people live, see and not just come, and see. They have to listen.”

Follow Bert Eljera on Twitter @vegaspinoy60 and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BertEljera

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