Asian Americans and all people of color need the right to mail voting
There has been a concerted effort by lawmakers, including some in Texas, to stop residents from voting by mail. It is a clear attempt to suppress the vote across communities of color, including in Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. What is happening in Texas marks a preview of the challenges people could face when they vote in November.
The Texas primary elections are held today in the midst of the spreading coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, Texas state leaders and officials have continued this stubborn opposition to voting by mail, which would make elections safer for everyone. Under restrictive state laws in Texas, mailed ballots are only available if residents are 65 or older, have a disability or illness, or will be out of the county during the election period.
A multiracial and nonpartisan coalition is now pushing to ensure all Texans can vote by mail in the general election in November. That includes Harris County, which surrounds Houston and has a population of more than four million people. We are doing this because what is true in Texas is true all across the nation. Voting by mail increases both safety and convenience. Texas officials know this. As only one example, Senator John Cornyn has voted by mail numerous times, including for a general election.
Asian American and Pacific Islander voters and all voters of color would benefit from efforts to accelerate and expand voting by mail. Our recent brief found that 23 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters are habitual users of voting by mail, the highest among all racial groups. But less than 3 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in Texas regularly use mailed ballots due to restrictive state laws.
Let us move past the biggest and most bogus argument against voting by mail, which is the false claim that it leads to voter fraud. But the reality is that the United States has seen less than 150 convictions for fraud using mailed ballots, not in one year or five years, but in the past two decades. That is a miniscule fraction of total votes cast for that time. Anyone who talks about increased fraud with voting by mail is simply wrong.
By contrast, the benefits of voting by mail are indisputable, especially for more accessible and convenient voting for all. It makes perfect sense that Asian American and Pacific Islander voters have exhibited preferences for using mailed ballots. This population is disproportionately limited English proficient. Even if polling places make voting materials available in Asian languages, as many but not all districts have been required to do, Asian American and Pacific Islander voters appreciate the ability to cast their ballots at home with language assistance from family members.
Texas and other states must adopt the gold standard practices that allow more people to take advantage of voting by mail, including a “no excuse” permanent voting by mail option for all residents. Other steps that states and communities can take now include providing better language access, including multilingual educational materials about how and when to vote, sending out prepaid return envelopes, and allowing voters to turn in their completed ballots at official polling places on Election Day.
Our research shows the portion of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters who use voting by mail rises in places that adopt these kinds of policies, and we are sure the same is true among all population groups. Whether in Texas or other states, those against voting by mail are on the wrong side of history, especially in the face of the coronavirus crisis. For communities of color and all Americans, voting by mail provides a safer means of making sure our voices are heard at the ballot box.
Deborah Chen is the civic engagement director at Asian Pacific American Advocates of Greater Houston. Eun Sook Lee is the executive director for the National Asian American and Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Fund.
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