Chinese voter turnout has room to improve

Despite a record number of absentee ballots reaching the homes of Chinese voters in San Francisco, with two weeks to go before the June 3 state primary election, the returns have been slow to come in, sparking renewed efforts to boost turnout.

The number of absentee ballots returned from Chinese voters in Assembly District 17 was 979, only 6.9 percent of those issued, the same percentage as total absentee ballots returned for the district, according to an analysis of the Department of Elections' master voter file and absentee voter file numbers from Friday.

The analysis by David Lee, executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee, has prompted his nonpartisan volunteer group to create a get-out-the-vote commercial today to air on Chinese-language television as well as phone banking and canvassing efforts.

Although the race for the state Assembly district between candidates David Campos and David Chiu is expected to continue in the November election, next month's election is particularly important, Lee said, because it is the first after the Leland Yee scandal, which he called “a black eye for the Chinese community.”

“We wanted to make sure that the community participates and that we don't lose momentum because every election cycle we try to increase turnout,” Lee said. “These numbers signal this is time to raise the red flag and we've got to do something now to increase the numbers.”

The committee's goal, he said, is to double the current absentee voter numbers among the Chinese community. Lee's Chinese American Voters Education Committee, which focuses on Chinese voters citywide, does not endorse candidates.

The turnout numbers were slightly higher than what Lee reported, according to a voter file that Chiu's campaign pulled from the Department of Elections on Monday. Among Chinese voters in Assembly District 17, 9.4 percent had cast absentee ballots, slightly higher than the overall absentee ballot return at 8.9 percent, according to Chiu's campaign manager Nicole Derse.

Many in the political world did not find the low turnout to date shocking because the gubernatorial race is not highly contested.

“There's not that much on the ballot, so this is not surprising at this point,” Chiu said. “That being said, we're doing everything we can to turn voters out across the diversity of San Francisco.”

Campos said, “I think that it's too early to tell what turnout will look like and I certainly want turnout to be as high as possible.”

Lee, also a political science lecturer at San Francisco State University, noted the June election is the first time in California that individuals can vote in a Democratic primary without being registered as a Democrat. Currently, more than one-third of Chinese voters decline to state their party affiliation.

“This could potentially be a boon for David Chiu if [Chinese] vote for him,” Lee said. “But the upshot is there's more than 14,000 ballots sitting out there in voters' hands but they haven't cast them yet.”

The committee's efforts targeting absentee voters over the next two weeks “will be unprecedented,” he said.

“The ballots might be sitting on top of refrigerators, on kitchen tables,” Lee said. “'We know you have them, it's important you fill them out, sign them and send them back,' that's the message that we're sending out.”

District 17 analysis

A look at Assembly District 17 numbers showed many absentee ballots are still outstanding.

Total registered voters: 249,889

Chinese registered voters: 31,417

Total absentee ballots issued: 99,995

Chinese absentee ballots issued: 14,036

Total absentee ballots returned: 6.9%

Chinese absentee ballots returned: 6.9%

Source: David Lee, executive director of the Chinese American Voters Education Committee

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