US election sees Asian-language outreach peak

RITU JHA

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial demographic in the nation, and to inspire every eligible citizen to vote the state of California has mailed out hundreds of ballots that carry information in Hindi for the general election.

Janna Haynes, public information officer, Sacramento County, California, told indica News: “401 Ballot Translation Guides were mailed in Hindi this election.”

This is the number of voters that we have registered with Hindi as their language preference – which they indicated on their registration form when they registered,” said Haynes.

Till November 2, she said, they had not received any in-language calls for help with filling out the ballots. But to assist voters on the election day, “we have 17 Hindi/English speaking workers,” said Haynes.

In 2012, California started to offer election information and assistance in nine languages: Spanish, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai or Vietnamese.

Under the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions must provide language assistance if more than 10,000 or 5 percent of voting-age citizens belong to a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, or don’t speak English very well.

Mike Sanchez, a spokesperson for the elections office at Los Angeles County in southern California told indica News, “A total of 575 voters received their election materials in Hindi Los Angeles County.”

Mark Church, assessor-county clerk-recorder and chief elections officer in Redwood, California, said they did not send Hindi ballots but they too provide ‘reference ballots’ at voting centers for Hindi-preference voters. These reference ballots contain all the same information as the official ballot, in the same format.

We also provide multilingual assistance at all Vote Centers and through our election information phone bank, including in Hindi,” Church told indica News.

Shikha Bhatnagar, executive director, South Asian Network (SAN), told this correspondent that they have made 500 calls to South Asians in Southern California to remind them to vote on Tuesday.

Asked if people ask for help on understanding the propositions, Bhatnagar said there are voter guides in Hindi and Urdu. There are voter protection numbers that those who cannot speak can contact. [If

you need assistance over the phone, please call at 562-403-0488].

In addition to English the staff at SAN speak Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Nepali, Bangla and Marathi.

Bhatnagar said one of the staff members speaks Marathi and the other day a person who called for voter registration help was delighted to talk to her in Marathi.

It creates a level of familiarity, the person opens up and it’s much easier,” Bhatnagar said.

According to the Center for Immigration Studies, Census Bureau data for 2017 shows nearly half (48.2 percent) of residents in America’s five largest cities speak a language other than English at home.

The largest numerical increases from 2010 to 2017 were among speakers of Spanish (up 4 million); Chinese (up 653,000); Arabic (up 363,000); Hindi (up 254,000); Telugu (up 192,000); Tagalog (up 173,000); Haitian, Creole (up 140,000); Bengali (up 128,000); Urdu (up 118,000); and Vietnamese (up 117,000).

The data released shows there are 1.8 million registered voters among the over 4 million Indian Americans.

Organizations are also using targeted methods of reaching out to the voters.

Nikki Singh, policy and advocacy manager at the Sikh Coalition, told indica News that they have spent the past six months working with data scientists to develop voter datasets that micro-target Sikh voters in specific states.

We know that Sikh organizations have done local phone-banking before, this is possibly the first time Sikh voters have been phone-banked nationally on this scale,” Singh said.

Over the course of this year, the Sikh Coalition has worked with volunteers across the country to encourage voter registration drives, as well as phone-bank more than 15,000 Sikh voters in swing states to provide them with critical, nonpartisan election information.

In fact, our phone-banking initiative was the Sikh Coalition’s largest-ever digital seva [service] initiative. Over 120 sevadaars [volunteers] helped make more than 15,000 calls to Sikh voters in nine key swing states,” said Singh.

The Sikh Coalition has said that all of its ‘get out the vote’ work is being done in support of broader Sikh-American civic engagement and not in conjunction with any candidate, elected official, or political party.

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