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Asian-American population growth could affect NC elections

The state’s Asian-American population has risen 85 percent since 2000. That demographic, along with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, are the fastest growing racial groups in the South, according to a report by Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

A voting report published by the same group found that 60 percent of Asian-American registered voters surveyed were absolutely certain to turn out in the November election, while 77 percent were fairly certain.

Jennifer Ho, director of graduate studies of English at UNC, said as far as political affiliation, Asian-Americans are a toss up.

“Asian-Americans are definitely a swing vote,” Ho said. “The other problem is, to say Asian-American, what does that even mean? Asian-American is this huge category of people.”

These populations tend to have lower voter turnouts, said Jasmin Huang, president of the UNC Asian Student Association, because Eastern culture traditionally looks down upon political involvement.

“That’s starting to change,” she said in an email. “(It) stems from a cultural difference between Asian descent we come from versus the Western ideals that we are raised in.”

The voting report also showed that Asian-Americans feel fairly disengaged and that political parties do not reach out to them enough.

“The parties need to connect directly with Asian-American voters and those who are potential voters,” said Marita Etcubanez, director of programs for the Washington, D.C. branch of the group that led the report

“Community groups can be encouraging people and helping people to make it easier for folks to naturalize, to register to vote and then stand ready to answer questions.”

Though 79 percent of registered Asian-American voters cast a ballot in the 2012 election, just 31.3 percent of all Asian-Americans reported that they were registered to vote, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“The Asian population has grown so fast, and it’s really outpaced some of the services and support and empowerment,” said Cat Bao Le, executive director of the Charlotte-based Southeast Asian Coalition, which seeks to increase involvement of Asian-Americans in the political process.

Some programs, Le said, help those who moved to North Carolina from urban areas get to polling stations and obtain absentee ballots — while other initiatives help naturalize and register those who move from abroad.

According to the report, Asian-American voters consider the most important issues to be national security, jobs and the economy, gun control and health care.

“What all of these people potentially have in common, it’s unclear,” Ho said. “Other than the fact that they’ve been designated to be Asian-American once they set foot in this country.”

Le said this is the first time a voter mobilization effort among Asian Americans has happened on such a large scale in North Carolina.

“I think it really speaks to the growing community and the power that we need to build here,” she said.

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