Election day is around the corner and organizers who are reaching out to immigrant communities say they are coming up against new challenges: apathy, increased barriers created by Georgia’s new voting laws, and redistricting.
This weekend, Berenice Rodriguez, Organizing and Civic Engagement Director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Atlanta, will be knocking on doors with a team of canvassers who speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and, Mandarin, in immigrant dense neighborhoods in Brookhaven, Duluth, and Chamblee, and encouraging as many people as possible to show up at the polls on Tuesday and cast their ballots. “A lot of people are surprised that there's an election happening,” she said.
It’s not quite the same as last year when the country was in the throes of a deadly pandemic, the economy was up in the air, and there was the very real threat that an Administration that had been routinely hostile to immigrants, would be in power for another four years. Turnout in Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and LatinX communities was nothing less than historic - a 60 percent increase in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) vote and a more than 50 percent increase in the LatinX vote.
But getting people to vote in local elections is different - and has always been a challenge. Nationwide, only around 27 percent of eligible voters participate in local elections. It's a hard sell. There aren’t one or two candidates running for a single seat. There are county elections, city council elections, school board elections, mayoral elections, and more. Depending on what county and what city you live in, your ballot will have different candidates and different seats to fill.
“They're like, didn’t I just vote? There is fatigue...” said Vyanti Joseph, Organizing Director for the Asian American Advocacy Fund and former AAPI director for the Warnock campaign. She’s been canvassing in Johns Creek, where over 30 percent of the population is Asian. Joseph and fellow canvassers have knocked on over 3,000 doors, and so far, they’re not seeing the numbers they hoped to see.
“Hopefully the numbers go up on Tuesday, because we're not where we need to be.”
Michelle Zuluago, Civic Participation Manager at Latino Community Fund-Georgia, expects turnout in the LatinX community to be around 10 percent. “Last year, the turnout was a lot higher, the stakes were higher. People went and voted because they felt scared,” she said. But in local elections, she explained, “people don't always know who they’re voting for and what their roles are for, so it’s a lot of education.”
Another challenge organizers have to contend with this year is Georgia’s controversial new voting law - SB 202.
“People are confused about it, there’s less opportunities to go vote....there are new dates and time windows, people now have to have a copy of their Georgia drivers license to vote by mail, there are a lot less drop boxes and the drop boxes are inside the voting location, not the drive through,” said Zuluago.
Joseph is worried the new law could impact Asian voters, since 85 percent of AAPI voters in 2020 voted early or through absentee ballots. “Restrictions on absentee ballots, having less drop boxes, as well as shortening the window for requesting and returning the ballots..that's a problem.”
But what happens the day after election day, when Georgia’s Republican led state legislature holds a special session on redistricting, could prove to be even more important for organizers than new voting restrictions or lack of information. If legislators approve maps that don’t reflect Georgia’s massive demographic shifts, and ultimately undermine the political power of the state’s minorities (soon to be majorities), their fight ahead will be long and hard.