Why a US congresswoman focused on improving Asian American voters’ turnout on election day

Chinese American Democratic congresswoman Grace Meng has again renewed her tenure with an overwhelming victory in Tuesday’s general election.

Meng received 126,018 votes, or 64.91 per cent of the 194,128 votes cast in the 6th Congressional District of New York, to earn another term in the US House of Representatives. More than 55 per cent of registered voters cast their ballot, according to official results.

As the countdown to the general elections neared, Meng put much effort into increasing turnout in her constituency, which has a high Asian population.

“We want to make sure that our community is also exercising their power and their rights at the poll sites,” she said before voting began. “Voting is something so many people in our country have literally fought for. ”

Statistics showed the district has seen a 150 per cent rise in voter numbers since her second race in 2014 and 3.85 per cent more than in 2012.

At one of her campaign events, Meng prepared a large sample ballot with which to explain to her constituents how their votes work.

It featured notes, instructions and the names of candidates for the White House, Senate, House of Representatives, State Senate and State Assembly, written in Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Spanish and English.

“The ballot can be confusing,” said Meng, the first Asian American New Yorker to be elected to the House of Representatives. “I want to make sure everybody knows what it looks like.”

She said Asian Americans were less likely to vote in an election than members of any other ethnic groups, and many had never voted. Many were unaware a general election was even scheduled for Tuesday.

Meng explained the intricacies of the ballot to constituents in a shopping mall in Flushing, home to one of New York’s biggest Chinatowns. Beside her campaign signs were those of a Korean American candidate running for the State Assembly.

Meng has been representing the 6th District in Queens since January 2013. Her constituency, covering Flushing, Forest Hills, Fresh Meadows, Elmhurst, Bayside, Kew Gardens and some other surrounding neighbourhoods, is home to more than 340,000 Chinese Americans and some 65,000 Korean Americans.

“It’s public information how many Asian American people vote when the election is done,” Meng said, “The Asian population is increasing. If our voting population does not increase, it would only do us harm.”

Meng is the eldest child of former New York State assemblyman Jimmy Meng, who was born in Shandong province and eventually migrated to the United States from Taiwan.

The Queens native said she had encountered stereotyping in her political career because of her ethnicity. “When I finished my first campaign debate in 2008, a person told me he was surprised that I could speak English,” Meng said. “Many people see us Chinese Americans as aliens, not true Americans, once they see our face. We have dark hair and dark eyes, but we are Americans.”

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Meng said she has talked to her colleagues in the House and people from other ethnic groups about the problem, and concluded that voting was the most important factor to counter the narrow-mindedness.

“As long as Chinese Americans do not vote, the mainstream media and society would regard the Chinese as not really caring for this country or taking America as our home,” she said.

Several incidents this year, including the manslaughter conviction of a Chinese American police officer and a segment on Fox News mocking Chinese Americans, were “wake-up calls” to the Chinese community, she said.

“[My team] have been making phone calls, sending emails, organising small meetings and reaching out to all kinds of community organisations and civic groups,” Meng, a vice-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said. “We put ads in Asian language media. We encouraged the Asian community to come out to vote.”

She said she would be happy to see Chinese immigrants cast their ballots, even if they voted for Republicans or Donald Trump, who was also born in Queens.

Meng started her political career in the state assembly, representing Flushing, a seat her father once held.

Meng said that unlike her first election campaign in 2008, when she was 33 and had to spend a lot of time introducing herself, this time she was a household name in the neighbourhoods and an experienced politician who could focus on mobilising people to vote.

This year, she won about 13 per cent more votes than in 2012.

“Over the years I have seen the Chinese community in Queens maturing in politics, and making history over and over again,” she said. “I am proud of that.”

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Meng was a lawyer before entering politics. She said a lawyer could only help individual clients but a legislator could make laws that helped a large number of people.

In the House she helped pass several influential bills, including ones on language access, mortgage protection and removing the word “Oriental” from government documents.

She said that in her new term, improving the lot of children, the elderly and small and medium-sized businesses would be at the top of her agenda.“I would like to bring more budget from Washington to our community,” she said.

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