Canvassers as diverse as the community push turnout

By: - October 24, 2018 5:55 am
go vote

Maggie Tsai, the communications manager with One APIA Nevada, speaks about voting at a press conference Tuesday. Photo: Michael Lyle

When people open up the voter guide handed out by One APIA Nevada, they will see election information in five languages: English, Tagalog, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.

For many groups working to get people to the polls before election day, canvassing is just part of the purpose. “We’ve knocked on doors, and members from our community have admitted this is the first time anyone has talked to them about the issues they care about in their own language,” says Maggie Tsai, the communications manager with One APIA Nevada, which focuses on civic engagement within Asian and Pacific Island community.

Tsai and other organizers are banking on a diverse group of canvassers — who look like the community they are engaging and speak the same languages — to get people out to vote.

After four days of early voting, more than 150,000 Nevadans have gone to the polls. Including absentee and mail votes, more than 173,000 Nevadans have cast ballots – substantially more than the nearly 136,000 early and absentee votes cast by the end of the first full week of early voting in the 2014 midterm election.

“The amount of ballots cast in the first few days is not enough,” says Maria-Teresa Liebermann with Battle Born Progress. “We need to keep going.”

In the 2014, 45 percent of eligible voters showed up. According to America Votes, the highest turnout was from white voters.

For Our Future, along with members of PLAN Action, Battle Born Progress and the Culinary Union, hosted a press conference Tuesday to discuss efforts to make sure canvassing efforts are as diverse as possible by engaging people of color, the youth and women — a strategy they think will win the midterms.

“The path to victory and to building power for Nevada’s working families and communities of color is through sustained engagement, education and mobilization,” said Michelle White, For Our Future’s Nevada state director.

Despite being the fastest-growing population in Southern Nevada, Tsai says Asian American Pacific Islander voters haven’t always been courted. “In general, a lot of times groups try to get the vote out, so they come every four, maybe two years, and get their photo opportunities,” she says. “They don’t spend time engaging.”

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Organizers with One APIA Nevada prepare to canvass. Photo: Michael Lyle

People of color have long raised concerns about how challenges they face are overlooked by policymakers, and their communities aren’t often engaged until campaign season. More and more groups are popping up to fill in the gaps.

That includes the Asian and Pacific Islander community, which represents about 10 percent of Nevada’s population.

One APIA Nevada has not only been talking to people about the upcoming election, but also working to understand what issues they are most concerned about: health care, education, immigration.

“Health care and education are two of the biggest issues for them,” Tsai says.

Across the board, organizers say talking to people about the issues most concerning to them helps them realize the urgency of voting. 

“Our ability to have quality health care is on the ballot,” says Erika Castro, an immigrants’ rights activist with PLAN Action. “The existence of our transgender brothers and sisters is on the ballot. For me and my family, my life is on the ballot.”

Canvassers who speak the same language become increasingly important when addressing specific obstacles of some new voters in the Asian community. “We have to teach them about the entire voting process,” she adds. “For many of them, they are coming to a new country with a different system. A lot of them are coming from a place where their vote doesn’t count.”

Beyond communities of color, various progressive groups are making sure women and younger voters also show up this year.

“The younger generation vote at half the rate of the older generation,” says Tia Yap with NextGen Nevada.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any,” Yap says. “Young people have the power to decide our future if they show up.”

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.