A few weeks ago, we learned about the ground-breaking work of the Asian American Advocacy Fund (AAAF) as they prepared for the Nov. 3 election via Building A Blue Wave in Georgia . Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood laid out goals that were surpassed in the crucial victory for Biden/Harris and other progressives. All eyes are now on Georgia in a special election for two U.S. Senate seats that could determine years of deadlocked politics or usher in Democratic initiatives and appointments.

In this new interview, Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, AAAF’s Executive Director, highlights the gains made via an historic Asian American turnout and addresses the all-hands-on-deck push to propel Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to victory in the January 5, 2021 special election.

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, AAAF Executive Director. Photo from AAAF website.

Eddie Wong: Do you have an analysis of the Asian American voter turnout results from Nov. 3.  National exit polls show that 63% of AA supported the Biden/Harris ticket.  Was that the case in Georgia?

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood: 147,873 AAPIs voted absentee or early (does not include Election Day) in Nov 2020. This exceeded the total Asian American and Pacific Islander turnout of 116,904 voters in 2016. The 2020 turnout figures include absentee voters and early voters. We’re still waiting to find our election day turnout.  Our data sources more accurately identify Asian voters that may be missed by the state figures using data enhancements that include surname and genealogical data. Please note that poll vote numbers are still to be confirmed by Secretary of State.

83% of AAPI youth in Georgia supported the Biden/Harris ticket.

Eddie Wong: How critical was the Asian American vote both for the top of the ticket and for other races?  I saw that several newcomers were elected including Dr. Michelle Au, and several incumbents were returned to office, e.g. State Representative Sam Park.

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood: The Asian American vote was critical for races in Georgia. We drove historic AAPI turnout with our in-language integrated voter engagement operation to reach AAPI voters.  In Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, AAPI voters helped Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux win her race. She missed winning in 2018 by 488 votes. Our votes helped flip that congressional seat. AAPI voters cast over 30,000 early votes in a race decided by less than 9,000 votes. AAPI favored Bourdeaux 59% to 35% over her opponent.

Our down ballot candidates such as Dr. Michelle Au won and her election will nearly double progressive AAPI representation at the state capitol. Dr. Michelle Au and Marvin Lim will join re-elected state legislators, Representative Sam Park and Representative Bee Nguyen, and Senator Sheikh Rahman.

In the metro Atlanta area, Asian American Advocacy Fund had a number of wins down ballot including:

    • We helped to elect a new progressive majority Black Gwinnett Board of Commissions. Nicole Love Hendrickson, Kirkland Carden and Jasper Watkins III support immigrant families, ending immigration enforcement, expanding language access at the polls and making transportation more equitable for working people.

    • We helped flip Gwinnett County’s Board of Education. Karen Watkins, is the first AAPI board member and along with Dr. Tarece Johnson.

    • We won promises to end 287g agreements that assist ICE in investigating and detaining people for purposes of immigrant enforcement in Cobb and Gwinnett counties.

Eddie Wong: What are the key tasks for the U.S. Senate run-offs?  I see that there is a Dec. 5 voter reg deadline? Are there still AA voters to be registered? How will you convince them to register and vote?

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood: Our multilingual voter education text hotline helps AAPI register to vote, request ballots in the mail and helps direct voters to cast their ballots. Any readers from Georgia can text us at 404-532-9970. We’re encouraging as many people to vote by mail.

We will reach our communities in-person in spite of the continued pandemic. We have the following goals:

  • Social Distance Door Canvassing  with 100,000 contact attempts.

  • Dial AAPI voters 500,000 times. Send 350,000 text messages.

  • Launch a state-wide multilingual ethnic media, digital media, and mail program.

  • Activate our base through Community Organizing and Relational Organizing.

Eddie Wong: Andrew Yang’s move to Atlanta for the run-offs has garnered national attention.  Is this a solo effort or will he be working with the Georgia  Democratic Party and perhaps with AA Advocacy Fund?

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood: Andrew Yang has not reached out to Asian American Advocacy Fund, so we are not aware whether this is a solo effort or a collaboration with GA Dems.

(Ed.Note: According to Yang’s Twitter feed, I’ve learned that Andrew Yang is a co-founder of WinBothSeats.org, which raises funds to enable grassroots organization mobilize the vote in Georgia for the run-off election. Their website states that “100% of donations are sent to a group of 16 Black and Brown led organizers. We send donations to the group once per week.” Movement Voter PAC is cited as the group which selected organizations and funds are distributed via Defeat by Tweet Super PAC.)  Here is a list of the groups designated for funding by WinBothSeats.org.

Eddie Wong: How can people from all over the U.S. help your efforts?  Where do they sign up? What voter contact programs can we help with?

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood: AAAF’s Political Action Committee launched our Asians for Ossoff and Warnock campaign!

The most helpful way people from outside of Georgia can support us is by funding the ground game to get canvassers directly into our communities. AAPI communities are particularly receptive to everyday people like them reaching out. We are running a field program during the pandemic so all contributions will help us keep our canvassers safe with PPE while also reaching our communities. You can donate here

Individuals who would like to volunteer can visit our website at https://asiansforgeorgia.com/, and fill out our volunteer form. For organizations that want to volunteer, we ask that one member of the org fill out this form so we can respond in a timely manner. Lastly, for individuals from out-of-state who want to be involved, we encourage you to fill out this form from Seed the Vote.

Eddie Wong: Tell us more about Ossoff and Warnock’s outreach to Asian Americans.  Do they have Asian Americans on their campaign staff? Have they made pledges to advocate for Asian American issues?

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood: The Asians for Ossoff and Warnock campaign is supported by our political action committee and therefore we can’t coordinate directly with Ossoff and Warnock’s campaigns.

We support Ossoff and Warnock because they support policies that uplift AAPI and immigrant communities. They support immigration policies that create pathways to legal status for our undocumented community members; believe that all children deserve quality education, prioritize responding to climate change; and they want to advocate for those hit hardest by the pandemic.

Rev. Raphael Warnock with Donna Wong at an AAPI fundraising event in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Donna Wong, my sister who has been putting up yard signs all over Cobb County.


Jon Ossoff personally greeted volunteers as they picked up yard signs in Marietta, GA. Photo courtesy of Donna Wong.

Eddie Wong: Aside from volunteering, can people donate to support your efforts beyond Jan. 5 run-off?  What plans do you have to continue the work in-between election cycles?

Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood: AAAF will continue to advocate for AAPI communities alongside other marginalized communities, including immigrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, African Americans, and the LGBTQIA+ community. Once the runoff elections are over, we’ll quickly pivot to advocating on issues that impact our communities.

AAAF volunteers ready to roll. Photo from AAAF website.

For those that want to support the long game to build power, please consider donating to help us build a more progressive Georgia for all: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/aaaf.

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