“Our community needs to hear directly from leaders and from candidates saying, ‘We have a real message of change, which is positive,'” Narasimhan said. “And we think by doing what we’re doing and doing it consistently, we’re giving them that message.”
Fueled by a multimillion-dollar ballot program, voter turnout among Asian Americans in Georgia nearly doubled from 2016 to 2020, according to Democratic firm TargetSmart — a major boon to Democrats, who overwhelmingly supported it.
The same analysis found that the number of ballots cast by Asian Americans in the state increased by more than 60,000 votes in 2020, more than the amount President Joe Biden carried Georgia. Now Asian American and Pacific Islanders, elected officials, donors and activists supporting Warnock are trying to prove that these voters can be the winning margin in this year’s runoff — and increase their influence in the process.
“We are the only demographic that continues to increase,” said Georgia State Senator-elect Nabilah Islam, who will be the first South Asian woman in the chamber. “So I am confident that we will be a huge voting bloc that will help bring Senator Raphael Warnock a victory.”
Republicans are also working to gain a foothold. Warnock’s Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, rallied with the Indian-American community in September, where he was joined by former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. And the Republican National Committee last year opened an Asia-Pacific American community center in the state’s Berkeley Lake, where it held pastors’ talks, New Year’s celebrations and a tax preparation event in Korean.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is on track with Walker and supports his turnout efforts. Kemp’s campaign focused on Asian American voters during his re-election, including hosting a Diwali event.
“Republicans have invested locally in Georgia’s Asian American community and garnered votes throughout the cycle,” said Nainoa Johsens, director of the RNC’s Asia-Pacific American media, adding that the community center “reaches thousands of Asian voters and Trust has been built between Herschel Walker and the Asian American community.”
The struggle for Asian Americans, a diverse community made up of people who hail from different countries and speak a range of languages, could have a lasting impact on Georgia’s politics: they form the country’s fastest-growing racial or ethnic group.
Although the GOP has made some gains among Asian Americans this cycle, the voting bloc tends to be nationally democratic. In Georgia, exit polls in November’s general election showed Warnock beating Walker by 20 percentage points, 59-39, among Asian American voters. In contrast, Kemp lost the voting bloc by just 8 percentage points, carrying the state in the process.
Ahead of the election, Meena Harris — Vice President Kamala Harris’ niece — and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) are launching an election campaign aimed at challenging South Asian voters. The Georgia-based nonprofit Asian American Advocacy Fund plans to make at least 250,000 calls to Asian American voters and knock on 70,000 doors during the runoff. And Warnock has run ads in Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin and other Asian languages.
In a statement, Warnock spokeswoman Meredith Brasher said he “recognizes the importance of the AAPI community in Georgia” and touted its support for Asian-American small businesses and lower healthcare costs.
But with Senate control not up for grabs this year like 2021 — and former President Donald Trump out of office — Asian-American advocates said liberal donors are investing less money to fund their turnout efforts in the runoff.
In 2021, civic group Indian American Impact said it pooled and spent a total of $2 million that went towards the Georgia Senate runoff, which also included a race between now Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff and Republican David took place forever. This year, the group’s funding goal is just a fraction of that: $500,000, which will be used for voting efforts and digital ads.
Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, executive director of the Asian American Advocacy Fund, said she is confident the organization will have enough resources to carry out its fieldwork. However, she argued that the group’s strategy would be more effective if supported by digital and mailing ads. Although some have been carried out by each, she said it was not the full breadth of his program due to lack of funds.
“Even in the parliamentary elections, Georgia did not receive the level of investment that we needed,” she said. “It was nowhere near enough to see us win for Warnock… and so to be honest, I’m a little disheartened to see how underinvested going into the runoff.”
Indian American Impact executive director Neil Makhija said, “People in 2020 would do anything to get Trump out of office, and they were willing to invest and recognize any community and leave no stone unturned.” Whether democratic However, institutional backers will do the same if Trump is not on the ticket is “an open question.”
Jayapal said she has stressed to the White House that it is critical for Democrats to build an infrastructure that regularly engages with Asian American voters during the election.
“It’s really trying to help them understand that the big changes that we’re going to see in the country are going to come from expanding the electorate,” she said. “With this partisan politics right now, we’re going to get fewer and fewer people sharing tickets or moving from one party to another.”
Mahmood said many people outside the community underestimate the time and effort required to mobilize Asian American voters: “We are not a monolith. We have so many different language and cultural competency needs that often go unaddressed in these political conversations.”
About 40 percent of Georgia’s Asian American voters voted remotely in the 2020 election — 14 percentage points higher than the statewide average, according to nonprofit AAPI data. Advocates of Asian Americans said this was due to the high rates of limited English proficiency in the community, as many people need extra time and guidance to cast their ballots.
This year brings even more challenges than the post-election runoff of 2020, due to the passage of a new state election law, SB 202, last year. Most importantly, there are only four weeks between election day and the runoff, compared to two months before. The law also imposes new requirements for mail-in voting, which some Asian-American Georgia organizers say has made the method more difficult for voters in the community.
There’s also the added challenge that turnout usually drops during a runoff.
Asian American leaders across the country are committed to educating and rallying Georgia voters. Maryland Lieutenant Governor-elect Aruna Miller, the first South Asian woman elected to the post, said she plans to make calls to bring Asian American voters to the Warnock election.
Her message: “You see, many South Asians left their country of origin to come to the United States to seek opportunities. But these opportunities come from civic engagement, from coming out and voting. That doesn’t just happen overnight.”