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Effort Launches To Mobilize Vietnamese Voters In San Diego

Participants in a Viet Vote canvassing effort hold signs that say

Credit: Viet Vote

Above: Participants in a Viet Vote canvassing effort hold signs that say "vote" in English, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese, May 19, 2018.

With the California primary two weeks away, “get out the vote” operations are underway, and founders of a newly launched organization are targeting an ethnic group they feel is overlooked.

Viet Vote aims to boost civic engagement among San Diego’s Vietnamese community, one of the largest in the country. Its first public event on Tuesday encourages residents to gather at a City Heights restaurant to discuss the upcoming June 5 election.

Maggie Ta, a worksite organizer for the county employee union SEIU Local 221, said the gathering will help Vietnamese voters, especially those who do not speak English, better understand the issues and candidates on their ballots.

“Translating these items, and having conversations about each ballot initiative, each race — what do these things actually mean?” Ta said.

She said the group struggled to find another organization doing similar work.

“Other ethnicities have voter engagement, civic engagement platforms that elevate voices for other ethnicities — Vietnamese folks don’t have one,” Ta said.

At least one other Vietnamese American organization does operate in the region, but it emphasizes cultural awareness among youth.

RELATED: How The Fall Of Saigon Made San Diego A Refugee Hub

Jerry Vattamala of the New York-based nonprofit Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund said efforts like Viet Vote ensure minority communities are visible to politicians.

“When Asian American voters are ignored, elected officials then are not able to identify and remedy the issues that are important to the Asian American community,” said Vattamala, who leads the nonprofit’s democracy program.

Vattamala said surveys from past elections show ethnic groups within the Asian American community may have different politics. For example, Vietnamese voters had the largest percentage of Republican voters (27 percent) compared to nine other Asian ethnic groups, according to 2016 exit poll data collected across 14 states, including California.

“They also have the highest percentage of voters that voted for the Republican candidate for president,” Vattamala said.

Viet Vote is targeting at least 1,100 Vietnamese voters in San Diego's City Heights community. The group is canvassing neighborhoods, phoning voters and tabling at naturalization ceremonies and community businesses.

Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, who represents City Heights, is planning on attending the group’s Tuesday event, a spokeswoman said. The Viet Vote Voting Party begins at 6:30 p.m. at Lotus Garden Restaurant.

With the California primary two weeks away, “get out the vote” operations are underway, and founders of a newly launched organization are targeting an ethnic group they feel is overlooked.

A member of the Viet Vote volunteer staff is also a representative of The California Endowment, which supports City Heights coverage by KPBS.

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