Georgia's Asian American lawmakers work overtime to help AAPI voters ahead of runoffs


'Let's show the rest of the country that Asian voters are a force to be reckoned with.'

An often overlooked but key Asian American and Pacific Islander voting bloc could play a decisive role in Georgia's U.S. Senate runoff elections — something the state's five Asian American lawmakers know well.

All eyes are on the pair of Jan. 5 runoffs that will determine which political party will control the Senate. Incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are running against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, respectively.

Asian American lawmakers in the state are already heavily invested in the race, spending much of their time urging the state's AAPI voting bloc to cast a ballot in the elections.

In Georgia, data firm TargetSmart's analysis found that the November elections saw a record 91% increase from 2016 in Asian American and Pacific Islander voter turnout for the presidential election. A fact sheet from the Asian American Advocacy Fund also showed Asian Americans to be the fastest-growing population in the state.

Two Asian American Democratic state legislature candidates in Georgia also won this year, bringing the total of Asian American state lawmakers up to five. All of them hope to wield their political influence to swing Georgia's Asian American vote in their party's favor, ramping up efforts in the weeks ahead of the election.

Michelle Au, a Chinese American doctor, won her Nov. 3 election, and is now set to become the first Asian American woman ever to serve as a Georgia state senator. Efforts to increase turnout and voter registration were key factors in Au's victory, the New York Times noted.

Weeks later, with a focus on the Senate runoffs, the Democratic state senator-elect appeared at an event on Dec. 18 to address Asian American turnout for the two critical races.

"The AAPI vote made a critical difference in the presidential election, and our work is not done. Let’s show the rest of the country that Asian voters are a force to be reckoned with and send @ossoff and @ReverendWarnock to the U.S. Senate," Au tweeted on Dec. 20 along with photos of her at a well-attended voter mobilization event.

Democratic state Rep.-elect Marvin Lim also won his race on Nov. 3, becoming the first Filipino American to be elected to the Georgia state House. A passionate advocate against voter suppression, he expressed to the Asian American Action Fund just "how important it is that we're empowering immigrants that feel undervalued."

"In my district in 2016, only 30% of eligible voters voted. Imagine how much more impact we could make if more people were voting from those communities," Lim said.

In an effort to get out the vote, he hosted a virtual press conference on Dec. 11 to highlight the runoff campaigns' efforts to expand constituency-based outreach.

In 2016, Sam Park was Georgia's first openly gay Korean American to run for a state House seat. He ultimately beat his opponent, a Republican incumbent. In December 2020, he kicked off canvassing events to get out the vote and created videos urging support for Ossoff and Warnock.

Sharing insight on the runoffs with NBC News, Park thinks "the objective, of course, is to replicate the kind of turnout that we saw and the runoff election that we saw during the general election from the Asian American communities."

Park noted that the Asian American and Pacific Islander community's power and votes can't be underestimated. He lauded Ossoff and Warnock's campaigns for taking advantage of the momentum and increasing voter turnout from the November elections after they brought on Asian American organizers with long histories in Georgia's communities.

Democratic State Rep. Bee Nguyen became the first Vietnamese American elected to the state's Legislature in 2016. Now, she's similarly spearheading efforts to knocked on doors and mobilize voters for the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns. She tweeted about having canvassed over 8,000 voters in her district.

Nguyen told the New York Times recently that while she was canvassing for Park back in 2016, she saw firsthand just how little attention was paid to Asian voters. "The pattern we saw when we were knocking on doors was that no one had ever talked to these people before," she said.

Echoing Park's sentiment, she emphasized the importance of community organizers for the Senate runoffs, telling CNN, "My message is you have to invest in all voters. You have to invest early, and you have to invest in on the ground strategies and build broad based coalitions."

"Voters will come out for people who have conversations with them who see them, who talk to them and who consider them to be an important part of the electorate," Nguyen added.

Meanwhile, Bangladeshi American Sheikh Rahman, the first Muslim state senator in Georgia, participated in an early voting march in December in support of Ossoff and Warnock. He has also taken a virtual call with Georgia Democrats abroad, according to the New Arab.

"This is a time that we're really anxious as the world watches Georgia decide the future of the country," the Democratic lawmaker told the outlet, calling the two senate runoffs "unprecedented."

Rahman continued, "People's idea about Georgia is from 40 or 50 years ago. We're a lot more progressive than they think. People think the south is backwards. Even small towns are more progressive than people think. Georgia is more open than they think."

The five Asian American lawmakers' voter efforts even garnered praise from U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), who tweeted in November, "Thankful for strategy meeting w/#aapi leaders @Rahmanforga @SamforGeorgia @BeeForGeorgia @AuforGA @MarvinLimforGA who have been successful on the ground in increasing aapi vote in @GeorgiaDemocrat and ensuring we are doing our part to help @ReverendWarnock @ossoff flip the [Senate]."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.