The Voting Power of Asian Americans


You’ll often hear about the idea of building an inclusive, multiracial democracy. What does that mean if we’re not including all races in the process to make that vision a reality?

The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voter bloc is the fastest growing across the country, and yet voter contact with AAPI communities continues to lag. In the 2022 election cycle, over half of Asian Americans reported they received no contact from either party about the election. 

As AAPI communities continue to grow—and as they face more hate, xenophobia, and racist violence—it is more important than ever to be in conversation with people, organizations, and elected officials who are advocating for AAPI folks on local, state, and national levels.

We spoke with Eileen Ma from Asian Law Caucus and Rebeka Islam from APIA Vote Michigan to discuss the history behind AAPI voting efforts, how the broader federal policy landscape is impacting the community, and how state groups are stepping up to protect Asian voting power in the United States. 

Tell me about your work and give a brief overview of the history of voting rights for Asian Americans.

EILEEN MA: Asian Americans’ right to vote was established along with their right to citizenship as late as 1952. The Asian Law Caucus was founded in 1972 as the nation’s first legal and civil rights organization serving low-income and underserved AAPI communities. Today, we work with Asian, Arab, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, and other immigrant communities. Our organization works to boost these communities’ participation in our democracy–for example, by sharing strategies to increase language access at the polls, poll monitoring, census participation and outreach. The current attacks on elections and voting actually threaten to reverse the steady progress our communities have made over many years.

There’s a long history of strategically excluding Asian Americans and immigrants from the electoral process in the United States. We know the 1965 Voting Rights Act provided support and protection against voting discrimination. How did we go from these major achievements to the attacks we’re seeing today? 

EILEEN MA: A loosening of federal standards is what opened the door to regressive legislation. In 2023 alone, at least 14 states enacted restrictive voting laws. In recent elections, Asian American communities, due to population growth and increased voter engagement, have been seen to make a big difference in elections in places outside of our historic population centers, like California and New York. Georgia would be a good example. Census results and polling show how Asian Americans can be the margin of difference. As the fastest growing racial group, Asian American communities are able to leverage their power to elect people who will fight for their interests—but we need the fair, equal right to vote.

With that in mind, what is your organization thinking about as we approach the November elections?

EILEEN MA: It will probably be more challenging than ever for many in our communities to vote. So we need to encourage as many eligible voters as possible to cast their ballots and insist on dismantling unjust barriers, like extra ID requirements, limitations on absentee ballot voting, and language needs. It’s so important to marshall up the resources necessary to reach out to and turn out our communities to vote, including in the languages they use.

Yes to all of this. From what you’ve shared, it seems that the focus is on the states and less on federal policy. What about Congress?

EILEEN MA: With the challenges in Congress, we must build power locally and at the state level to enact change. That’s where there’s potential for progressive policy change and where solutions will emerge–from grassroots, local leaders and active engaged community members. To make progress for our communities and to be heard at the federal level, we need and are helping to build a strong ecosystem of organizations building community power in every region and from the ground up.

That brings me to you, Rebeka. It’s great to have you here from APIA Vote Michigan. Tell us about your organization and the work you’re doing.

REBEKA ISLAM: My organization’s focus is on getting Asian and BIPOC communities mobilized and civically engaged. Organizing the AAPI community in Michigan involves working across multiple languages, several different cultures, and a range of economic situations. It’s that diversity that led us to advocating for a state voting rights act. 

Right, the Michigan Voting Rights Act. It seems like this is a chance for some progressive policy change. 

REBEKA ISLAM: Correct. Michigan Voting Rights Act would provide needed protections to make sure that every voter can participate in the electoral process. Since 2020, Michigan’s AAPI community has been dealing with increased misinformation and voter intimidation, on top of existing language barriers, voter suppression practices, and lack of access to polling places. Many in the community feel disenfranchised and like they can’t trust the electoral process. If we can’t pass voting rights legislation, those feelings are only going to intensify. Voting can empower Asian Americans to influence policies that affect their communities, from education and healthcare to immigration and civil rights. And with more incidents of anti-Asian hate, it’s crucial Asian Americans be able to vote for leaders who will advocate for their safety and rights.

This brings me back to what Eileen said earlier: Asian communities have the power to significantly impact elections, but not without access and resources in place to make voting equal and fair.

REBEKA ISLAM: Asian Americans’ participation in elections is crucial. I’d [also] like to emphasize the importance of community involvement beyond just voting. Civic engagement includes staying informed about issues, participating in community events, and holding elected officials accountable. 

We encourage everyone to get involved in whatever way they can. Whether it’s through volunteering, attending town halls, or talking to neighbors about the importance of voting, every action counts in strengthening our community’s voice and influence.