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WASHINGTON — In an address to the first AAPI Victory Alliance Unity Summit Wednesday, Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized the importance of members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the election process and in the country’s society.
“Asian Americans have the right to be recognized as American. Not as the ‘other.’ Not as ‘them,’ but as ‘us,’” she said. “In America, I do believe a harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us, and we should all then recognize that interconnection between each of us.”
The vice president, who is the first woman and first person of Asian descent to hold her office, slammed efforts by lawmakers in Republican-led states, such as in Georgia, to enact legislation that civil rights groups fear could suppress the vote of marginalized groups and make it harder to vote overall.
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“Since the start of 2021, more than 360 bills to restrict the right to vote have been introduced in nearly every state,” she said. “Many of these bills specifically target vote by mail. And let’s be clear about this, (they) specifically target vote by mail while 64% of Asian Americans vote by mail."
"We must see these efforts for what they are. Let’s be clear eyed. They are an attempt to suppress the right to vote," Harris said.
Harris is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica.
The event, hosted by the AAPI Victory Alliance, was attended by speakers including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M. The lawmakers urged the passage of voter rights protection legislation like the John Lewis Voter Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders increased their voter turnout by 46% between the 2016 and 2020 elections, and were the group with the highest rate of utilizing vote-by-mail, implemented for safety reasons during the pandemic, according to data analyzed by TargetSmart.
"The AAPI community showed in this last presidential election what a difference you can make," Clinton said.
The record engagement from Asian Americans in 2020 can be attributed in part to the anti-Asian rhetoric of former President Donald Trump and members of his administration regarding the coronavirus pandemic and other actions his White House took on immigration and other policies, according to AAPI Victory Alliance Executive Director Varun Nikore.
“This has likely cemented a permanent shift and change within the AAPI community that will last a while going forward. And yet, unless continued investment happens in the AAPI community, we can see a flattening of the turnout in future elections for AAPIs. We have to continue engaging them,” Nikore told USA TODAY.
After over a year of increase in documented hate crimes and racist incidents against Asian Americans, including the deadly shooting in Georgia that killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women, lawmakers and allies must support the AAPI community in the workplace, in society and in voting, Harris said.
"I believe we have an opportunity now to turn that pain into action. To turn that pain — that righteous anger because of the injustice of it — we have an opportunity to turn that into power," Harris said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamala Harris: Restricting vote by mail hurts Asian Americans