On September 27th, 2016, Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) coordinated voter registration drives with Korean American students across the country, as part of the 2016 National Voter Registration Day (NVRD). Through this national campaign, KACE was able to assist over 250 first-time voters to register on campus, in time for this year’s upcoming presidential election.
The student organizations who participated in the 2016 National Voter Registration Day under KACE’s college program are as follows:
Rutgers University (Rutgers Korean Student Association)
Wellesley College (Wellesley Korean Student Association and Wellesley Asian Student Union)
Harvard University (Harvard Korean Association)
Emory University (Emory Korean Undergraduate Student Association)
University of Southern California (USC Korean American Student Association and USC Asian Pacific American Student Assembly)
Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech Korean Undergraduate Student Association)
Northwestern University (Northwestern Korean American Student Association)
Amherst College (Amherst Korean Student Association)
University at Buffalo (UB Korean United Student Association)
Despite the many suggestions by the media that the Asian American electorate and youth voters will be the crucial factors in this year’s election, the level of outreach and engagement to these groups remain relatively low. In fact, voter engagement among young adults (between the ages of 18 and 34) is significantly lower for Asian Americans than those in other racial or ethnic groups by as much as 14 percentage points, according to APIA Vote.
Indeed, Justin Joung of Rutgers Korean Student Association, a student participating in the effort, shares that the most common reaction to his voter registration drive was apathy. “A typical response we received while tabling was, ‘what is the point?’ Even though there are over 60,000 students here at Rutgers, most students seem disinterested,” said Justin.
Adding that his organization hopefully made a difference, however small, Bryan Choi of the same organization said, “It is especially important for young voters like us to be involved. And especially as an Asian American, I often feel that our community’s voices get overlooked. I learned from my experience with KACE that we can challenge the model minority myth through active civic participation.”
Emily Chun, Co-Chair of Wellesley Pan-Asian Council echoed the same concern, with more optimism. “It is easy to feel hopeless and downplay any bit of political agency as illusory but we need to still keep activating political agency in the ways we can and voting is a major way, especially as Asian Americans with our political ambiguity.”
Throughout KACE’s voter registration drives on college campuses in collaboration with several Asian American and Korean American student organizations, the most common reaction by Asian American student was awe. According to program director Wonseok Song of KACE, who also serves as the executive director of its college program KAGC U, “Since January of 2016, from our campus outreach efforts, it seems as though most Asian American students are interested in participating in elections, but lack an adequate understanding as to how to approach it. When they see Asian American student organizations running voter registration drives, these students are excited to see them and ask several questions, always starting with ‘I’ve been meaning to do this for so long'”.
As a proud partner of the 2016 National Voter Registration Day, KACE is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, dedicated to empowering the Korean American community through civic education and voting rights advocacy.