Asian Americans Are Key Voters in Georgia U.S. Senate Run-off : Interview with Chany Chea, Communications Director of Asian American Advocacy Fund

By Eddie Wong. Posted December 2, 2022.

The midterm elections in Georgia garnered national coverage because of the tight race between Sen. Raphael Warnock and football star/Trumper Herschel Walker and the electrifying rematch between former State Rep. Stacey Abrams and Governor Brian Kemp. Abrams’ strong run in 2018 sparked a massive Black, Latinx, Asian American and youth voter engagement which paved the way for Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia in 2020. And this year there were high hopes that Abrams would pave the way for Bee Nguyen and others to statewide office.  That did not come to pass on election night, and the GOP swept state offices and retained control of the state House and state Senate.

National interest is now focused on the U.S. Senate run-off between Warnock and Walker on Dec. 6, 2022. According to Holly Otterbein and Madison Fernandez in Politico’s Nov. 26 story, both the Democrats and Republicans are targeting Asian American voters because of their high turnout rate. According to Target Smart, Asian American turnout nearly doubled from 2016 to 2020 and there were 60,000 more Asian American voters in 2020. Since turnout usually falls in special elections, a high turnout by Asian American voters can be the margin of victory. Exit polls showed that Asian Americans preferred Warnock over Walker by 20 percentage points.

East Wind ezine asked Chany Chea of the Asian American Advocacy Fund to share some lessons from the fall campaign. Chany was born in Canada and her parents were part of the wave of Cambodian refugees who settled in Canada in the 1980s. As Communications Director for AAAF PAC, she handles press relations, digital communications, and messaging. She came to AAAF after working on campaigns related to immigrant rights and domestic violence. Chany also discussed the plans for the crucial U.S. Senate election. This interview was conducted on Nov. 30, 2022.

Eddie Wong: I think we’re all disappointed by the election results, but even out of defeat, you learn things. What reflections do you have about the fall elections?

Chany Chea: It was a huge disappointment that Stacey Abrams did not win, but we’re so appreciative of her work. Without Stacey Abrams, we wouldn’t have had the same kind of investment in API voters as we did since 2018. She really propelled that multi-ethnic strategy to get voters of color out. Our organization has been working with APIs in Georgia, and we’ve seen huge gains. While we didn’t win the bigger races, we won a lot of local races. We have the largest AAPI state legislative caucus in the U.S. with ten Democrats and two Republicans. A lot of legislative work might be defensive work against some bad bills that Gov. Kemp and the Republicans might put forth, but we have a big enough group of local elected officials who will support our values to fight against these bills and for the policies that our communities want. All in all, there were some wins and some losses.

According to our records we had about a 9% increase in voter turnout comparing this year’s midterm election to the midterm in 2018. It’s good to see our communities remaining engaged. We were really concerned about that because we didn’t have somebody as polarizing as Trump to rally our communities around. In terms of what we’re doing for the runoff, obviously the biggest goal is re-electing Senator Warnock. We also have Sarah Beeson, a local candidate in Roswell City, who we’ve endorsed in the City Council runoff. We hope we get that win as well.

We haven’t stopped since the general election and we hit the doors immediately to talk to voters and let them know about the upcoming election. Our goal is 80,000 doors knocked and 250,000 calls to voters. And our doors are generally in the metro Atlanta area where we have the highest concentration of the API voters, and then everywhere else we try to call, text message, and send pieces of mail out. We have a quite a large digital program as well to reach people online.

Eddie Wong: Are you asking for volunteers from other places to come and help?

Chany Chea: Absolutely. We are a part of the Asian American Power Network.  We’ve called on our partners within that network to send staff to Georgia and to volunteer virtually as well. We have a phone bank happening every single day leading up to the Dec. 8 election. That’s one of the biggest volunteer opportunities for people outside of Georgia. You can sign up to volunteer here.

And we have a canvas coming up on Sunday, Dec 4 that is co-hosted with Indian American Impact and they are bringing a few VIPs such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal amongst others. And they’ve a put money into sending volunteers to Georgia for that canvas. We’re also working with Seed The Vote.

Eddie Wong: If people want to make donations, where should they send it?

Chany Chea: This campaign is called Warnock For The Win. You can donate here.

Eddie Wong: Asian American Advocacy Fund is also part of a larger state table that’s been engaged on the C4 side. How do you build relationships to strengthen the coalition?

Chany Chea: What we do together is try to kind of streamline our efforts, particularly when it comes to the legislative session. Certain groups will cover certain issues that are more relevant to their communities. But when we go into elections, we try to make sure we’re not duplicating efforts. If certain groups are running programs in South Georgia, they might also knock on Asian American doors. We might also knock on Black doors and Latinx doors and we have done so instead of having groups out in the same area knocking the same doors.

Eddie Wong:  Are you developing plans for AAAF in 2023?

Chany Chea:  2023 is a big base building year. We also have municipal elections, and we’ll play a role in those as well. Talking to our voters, making those connections, doing a lot of community engagement events are important because we want to go beyond having a transactional relationship where we’re just reaching out during elections saying we need you to vote. We want to also offer our communities opportunities to engage and learn about the legislative process.

The coloring book that we did this year was huge for AAPI representation, and it also got national attention on the Kelly Clarkson Show and beyond that. We hope to do more art/community engagement work. A big part of our work next year will also be fundraising for 2024 because you know what we learned from this year is that our work requires early investment. There’s a lot of language accessibility work that we need to do with materials that go out to voters. We need to make sure that the folks that we have on the ground are culturally competent and. That comes with being able to prepare early.


Eddie Wong:  You mentioned earlier that Asian American voter turnout increased and that’s probably the result of your work registering people to vote starting back in 2016. Going forward, how do you maintain that funneling of new voters and keeping them engaged?

Chany Chea: We rely on our C3 (non-partisan, voter education organization) for the voter registration work. They just have so much experience engaging with the communities and we’re confident they will continue to do this work well.

Eddie Wong:  You talked a little bit about Progress Georgia. Can you describe some of the groups and how you work together?

Chany Chea: In terms of the work that AAAF has directly done with some of these groups during the general election, we worked with SIEU, GALEO Impact Fund, Care in Action, and we did a group canvas together. It was amazing because it was extremely diverse. We had our Asian American canvassers. We had our Latinx canvassers. We had Black canvassers. We had just about every group represented there.

Eddie Wong: I‘ve read that the youth turnout in Georgia was amazing and helped propel Warnock with 37,000 vote lead over Walker. How are youth getting involved?

Chany Chea: This is something that I’m constantly thinking about in communications. We use digital strategies to reach young votes, and we are also hot spotting on campuses, talking to students about voting. This year our progressive partners advocated for polling sites on campuses. It’s a tricky time with the Thanksgiving holiday and you have students coming back to college from home. We wanted to make sure that that they would be able to vote. Without those college students, we would be in big trouble. There’s this idea that young voters just aren’t engaged, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. The numbers are definitely lower than other age groups, but I think people just are really fired up about reproductive rights. That is just one of the issues that are top of mind for a lot of young voters.

Thank you all for joining us at our Launch of the ABC’s of AAPIs coloring book and Beltline exhibition, what a way to kick off. – from May 18 AAAF Facebook post.

Eddie Wong: Let’s talk about Bee Nguyen’s race for Secretary of State. People had high hopes for here even though it was going to be tough running against an incumbent. Do you think that Bee’s run will have an impact among future generations of people aspiring to become elected officials?

Chany Chea: I think that even having somebody run and make it past the primaries is a step forward. Seeing her progress that far is inspiring for future generations. And I think the fact that we do have a lot of Asian American representation in our legislature is inspiring for future lawmakers. We are trying to be a part of that pipeline. We will hold a candidate training next year and hopefully be able to support potential political candidates when they eventually run for office.

Eddie Wong: Do you have any last any last comments?

Chany Chea:  I’m just so appreciative of your continual support of our work, so thank you for always reaching out to us. And I know we are not the most responsive all the time. We’ve just been go, go, go.

Eddie Wong:  Got it, don’t worry about it. I’m from an older generation and was active with Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition, so I’ve been involved in politics. I see in you a new generation that’s carrying on the work at such a high level. We didn’t even have cell phones or computers. And now you  are just using everything at your disposal. That’s wonderful.

Chany Chea: We’re in this virtual world, all working from home but making stuff happen on the ground. It’s such a different environment, but I think it’s so important for us to be doing that intergenerational work, learning from folks who have done it over the years. It also not just reaching out to the youth, but making sure that we’re talking to their parents, their aunties and uncles.

Eddie Wong:  I’m hoping that down the line we can connect groups like AAAF with people on the West Coast. We have such big communities out here. There’s lots of money to be raised and lots of potential support, but there’s not a consciousness yet of a national Asian American political community. I’m hoping to see that happen before 2024. Thanks for talking with me.

Chany Chea:  Thank you so much.


Interviewer’s Bio:  Eddie Wong is the editor/publisher of East Wind ezine. He is a longtime activist in the cultural and political spheres of the Asian American Movement.

Featured Photo. All photos from AAAF website and Facebook page.

Celebrating the launch of the ABC’s of AAPIs by AAAF in Atlanta on May 18, 2022.

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