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AAPI voters prepare to vote in the “most important election of our lifetime”

By Annie Guo VanDan







Over a third of the AAPI population in Colorado live

in Arapahoe, Denver, and

El Paso Counties.

Why Colorado Asian Americans Vote

“With 200,000 deaths due to COVID-19, with the racial injustice causing civil unrest nationwide, with the economy in ruins and many small businesses in danger and family separation and detention centers full of freedom seeking refugees, and with much of the country on fire and in a climate crisis, our vote is the single most powerful civil tool we have to possibly resolve any of this,” said Howard Chou, Chair of the Colorado AAPI Democrats, an initiative of the Colorado Democratic Party.

“I know people get tired of hearing it and it would seem that every election is deemed the most important, but this is truly the most important election of our lives,” he said.

“It’s important for Asian Americans to vote because we decide who will represent us and our values and what laws will impact our daily lives,” said Priscilla Rahn, a registered Republican in Douglas County.

“It is vital for us to know what we value and then work to put great candidates into office. If we don’t vote, our voice as a community is overshadowed by politicians who will make decisions for us.”

DNC AAPI Caucus with Julian Castro (front right), former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and presidential candidate.

For Denver community organizer Stephanie Tanny, her motivation to vote is to influence policy changes that affect communities.

“I used to be extremely shy and hated public speaking. However, I realized that speaking up and sharing your truth is the only way that any changes will be made.”

“Voting isn’t just about a particular seat or position, but about the bills that will be passed that will serve or harm our communities. As a community organizer and fundraiser over the past decade, I have seen the lasting effects that one small policy change can have,” said Tanny.

AAPI Voter Turnout

Unfortunately, in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, the voter turnout rate has been historically lower than other groups. In the 2012 election, AAPI voter turnout was 47 percent compared to 64 percent for white eligible voters and 67 percent for African American eligible voters. In 2016, there was a slight increase with a turnout rate of 49 percent from AAPIs, although still less than half.

So why has Asian voter turnout been historically low? One reason is that when considering one in three AAPIs speak limited English, there has been limited language resources available to making voting more accessible.

Although voting divisions are required to translate their ballots when their population has more than five percent of people sharing a language other than English or 10,000 limited-English speakers, only 22 counties or cities meet that requirement for any Asian language. And despite the legal right to bring a translator with you

when voting, the Department of Justice has filed 12 lawsuits since 1998, citing discriminatory malpractices by poll workers -- accused of failing to provide voters with the appropriate resources in their language or denying their translators access to the polling stations.

(Stephanie Tanny speaks about the movement she led to pass her first bill in 2011, which has now allocated over $1.5 million for sexual violence survivor support services and prevention education at her alma mater, Colorado State University.)

In Colorado, 69% of Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home, and of those, more than 44% speak English less than “very well.”

Additionally, when it comes to geography, AAPIs generally do not live in swing states, where the vast majority of political time and resources are focused. This results in AAPIs feeling that their vote is pointless. In the 2012 presidential election, voter turnout among the 12 most competitive states was at 66 percent, while voter turnout in the 39 other states was only at 57 percent.

Involvement in Political Leadership

Because voting is also not an isolated event or practice, but rather a “multi-generational habit,” often if immigrant parents do not vote, their first-generation children are less likely to vote, let alone get involved with politics.

Chou, who was born in Shanghai and immigrated to the US in 1980, recalls his first memory of being politically active was when he was 16, during the Rodney King civil unrest in 1991.

“I remember speaking at City Hall in San Mateo (California) about the injustice that Rodney King had suffered and that we can use our voices to fight the power of corruption. I didn’t see many AAPIs back then, but as I became more active, I found more and more that were advocating and working in the community to make a difference politically.”

Chou spent his younger years in the San Francisco Bay Area. He moved to Colorado in 2007, and is now the only AAPI to hold a leadership position for a political party in Colorado. He was first elected as the Vice Chair of the State Democratic Party in December of 2018 at a special vacancy election, and then re-elected to a full two-year term in March 2019.

(For more data about Asian American Pacific Islanders, visit )

“It’s something I take very seriously because I have an opportunity to continue to bring our values of equity and inclusion to the forefront and continue to expand our base and work to elect leaders who truly represent the people,” said Chou about his role as Vice Chair.

“It also allows me to serve on the DNC to which I take great pride in representing Colorado values on the national scene.”

If you watched this year’s Democratic National Convention, you may have seen Chou and his family representing Colorado during the roll call for the Democratic nomination.

“I was completely floored and honored to carry the responsibility to deliver our national roll call for our state of Colorado,” he said.

“Our roll call made several top ten lists in media outlets across the country for the best roll call video. My picture was featured on CNN, MSNBC, Politico, just to name a few. I am very proud to have represented Colorado and grateful that I was given the opportunity to share my story and how the pandemic has affected working families.”

Tanny acknowledges the importance of AAPIs stepping into political leadership or elected office.

“I love when I see other AAPIs in leadership positions,” said Tanny. The amount of influence and ability to mentor others is an awesome responsibility. I hope that not only can we convince more AAPIs to vote, but to get involved politically, whether that is running for office or serving on a local commission or board.”

AAPIs Support Both Parties

Although Asian Americans only make up four percent of eligible voters in the U.S., they are the fastest growing minority group. Despite many different subgroups within the population, AAPIs are now seeming to vote as a more cohesive bloc.

Rahn, who is a public school educator, said: “As a community, we are very resourceful and independent. Asians are often entrepreneurs and leaders in innovation. We value family, religious freedom and a high quality education for our children.”

“Millions of Asian immigrants have come to America in pursuit of the American dream and to escape oppressive governments. The Republican Party is the party that embraces freedom, independence and prosperity,” Rahn said.

Historically, AAPIs have been more Republican: in the 1992 presidential election, a majority of Asian Americans supported George H.W. Bush at 55 percent, and in 1996, Asian Americans still Now, Asian Americans are increasingly voting Democrat faster than any other minority group.

(Priscilla Rahn, a Denver educator,

ran for CU Board of Regents in 2020)

Key Issues Important to AAPIs

For Rahn, she is concerned about education, the economy, and national and local safety.

“We have huge problems in America with our approach to educating children. Progress hasn’t happened fast enough within our hardest to serve populations. We have left behind generations of children and it’s time that our politicians put our kids first and allow parents to have more of a voice in their child’s education.”

She continued, “Many Asian small business owners have suffered under unfair and unconstitutional mandates during COVID-19. Also, I support police training policy reforms, but do not support defunding the police. We need to take a look at our criminal justice laws.”

Lastly, Rahn explains that Prop 113 about the national popular vote will be on the November ballot.

(Howard Chou and his family represent Colorado during the roll call for the Democratic nominee at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.)

“Our constitution was written in a way that gave states a more equal voice by using the electoral college system. Without the balance of the electoral college, certain populations could have the power to make all of the decisions. Asians make up less than six percent of Colorado’s population, so our voices could become irrelevant and it would weaken Colorado on the national stage.”

Tanny is also worried about small business owners, as well as essential workers. She added: “Whether it is COVID-19 or any of the myriad of issues that arose in 2020, many of these problems have been around for decades. I am most concerned about how marginalized communities are impacted. We need politicians that are committed to long term solutions.”

Chou says that the current immigration policies have greater obstacles of naturalization of citizenship and some new immigrants are being detained and even separated at the border.

“AAPIs also apply for a higher percentage of H1B Visas that the current administration has suspended, which hinders our U.S. economy and innovation,” he said. “This administration has also continued to use xenophobic and racist language in regards to COVID-19 and that has fueled anti-Asian attacks all across the country.”

(Priscilla Rahn, front center, has served as the Chair of the Denver Public Schools Asian Education Advisory Council for more than 20 years.)

Hopeful for a Strong AAPI Turnout in 2020

The 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, co-sponsored by APIA Vote, AAPI Data, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, shows that there may be a higher voter turnout than ever before.

“Through this survey we see that Asian Americans are ready to exercise their power to vote in person or by mail,” said John C. Yang, Advancing Justice – AAJC president.

According to the data, 54% of Asian American voters plan to vote by mail or absentee.

“We need to make sure voters are requesting their ballots, voting early when possible, and given access to any language assistance they are entitled to,” said Christine Chen, Executive Director of APIAVote.

The survey reached 1,569 Asian American registered voters nationally. Voting wasn’t the only issue top of mind for Asian Americans. At least two out of three people view immigration as extremely or very important in the election, with majorities supporting expanding access to health coverage to all people regardless of immigration status, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

“Asian Americans saw a record high level of midterm election turnout in 2018,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of AAPI Data, adding that “with a majority saying that they are even more enthusiastic than usual about this election suggests that we will see record turnout for Asian Americans for a presidential election in 2020.”

See the survey results at or visit for additional data.

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