On Tuesday, America will mark yet another Election Day. For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), this coming election seems particularly relevant.
The AAPI electorate is among the fastest growing voter population in the country. In the last two presidential general elections, AAPI voters voted overwhelmingly in favour of Barack Obama. In several states during the 2012 election, AAPI voters voted for the incumbent president in large enough numbers to have likely swung their states into his column. With Election Day fast approaching, many of us have been reminded of the power of our vote. We have been the target of exhortations to turn out to the ballot box on November 8th. It has been widely speculated that AAPI voters and other voters of colour – who collectively support Democratic nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by three-to-one margins – are likely to win the first female president of the United States her place in the Oval Office.
It seems obvious that greater electoral numbers for AAPIs should yield concomitant greater political power for our community. America is a representative democracy, wherein constituents are promised a seat at the table by a simple sociopolitical contract: our votes are offered to politicians as a quid pro quo promise of beneficial policy changes. More votes might therefore be assumed to invite better policies. Indeed, some AAPI groups – most notably 80-20 — deploy such thinking as rationale for their mission to create a national AAPI voting bloc comprising 80% or more of all voting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the group’s leaders seek to leverage that bloc for or against specific candidates.
But what if this thinking is flawed; or, at least, incomplete? What if sheer voting numbers do not alone guarantee greater political power for voters on the fringes of American politics? How do AAPI voters, and other voters of colour, build political power when we must cast our votes in a system structurally resistant to prioritizing issues of race and racism?