President-elect Joe Biden carried Georgia with less than a 13,000-vote lead, a tiny margin made possible, in part, by historic turnout among Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the Peach State. It’s the first time in nearly 30 years that Georgia voters chose a Democrat for president.
By some counts, AAPI voters nearly doubled compared to 2016, and Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood of the Asian American Advocacy Fund says that’s no fluke. Her organization helps turn out voters for progressive candidates and causes.
“Our playbook wasn’t just the work that we did in 2020, but it’s years of organizing in our communities,” she tells NPR’s Morning Edition. “Within such a diverse Asian American community, we can’t just have one AAPI organizer and call it a day. We have to have very specific ethnic organizers that are doing the very important and very specific organizing necessary for some of these communities.”
Asian American and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing demographic in Georgia, and Asian American Advocacy Fund estimates of registered voters are even slightly higher than official state totals. There are more than 300,00 registered voters in Georgia who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander. More than 185,000 voted in 2020. And that’s around a 63 percent increase compared to 2016, according to Asian American Advocacy Fund data.
Your group did a lot of organizing work leading up to the election. Asian Americans first, we should say, are diverse socioeconomically, in regards to religion, country of origin. But they did vote overwhelmingly Democratic this election. Why? What issues matter to them?
COVID and COVID relief was at top of mind for a lot of our families, as was health care. It was apparent that this year was the year for health care to be the top issue for our families because we knew how the lack of health care has come to impact our communities.
Indian Americans are the largest Asian American group in Georgia. Was Kamala Harris a factor in turning them out?
With the presence of Kamala Harris on the ticket, it definitely motivated them to do more and to be more loud and to be more proud of supporting a Democratic ticket. For sure it energized the community. And for a lot of people who maybe were on the fence about Trump or Biden, it really helped to tip the scales in Biden’s favor.
What was the playbook for how to reach voters that traditionally had really not been engaged in politics?
What that [playbook] looked like was having a Korean organizer talk to Korean elders or having a younger Korean organizer talk to younger generation Korean-Americans and really replicating that for each community. …
Language access is always a big thing for us. … We also make sure that outreach is available, and when we’re knocking on doors, or talking to voters on the phone, that we have in-language volunteers and staff making those calls, but also having two way communication to let voters know that they can always reach back out to us if they have questions.
So I guess the big question now is, how are you feeling about the Georgia Senate [runoff election in January]? Will Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders turn out in a few weeks in the same way that they did in the presidential race?
It’s really important for us to keep that momentum up, to make sure that people just don’t get complacent and assume that because Georgia is blue that it will stay blue. People are also tired. Georgia became a battleground state very late in the cycle for some people. And so the last few weeks before the election were a lot for our people. They were getting calls and text messages and mail almost every day. And that has just picked right back up since the runoff. So not only are we dealing with logistical challenges with the holidays, but we’re also dealing with some exhaustion with being contacted.