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September 17, 2019

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Midterm Election:

Door-to-door canvassers hope efforts influence Asian-Americans at polls


Yvonne Gonzalez

Canvasser Myrna Laspinas with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance shakes hands with a resident as she contacts registered voters in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018.

Bags of rice and outright cash are some of the get-out-the-vote efforts that immigrants from the Philippines may have been used to in their home country, says Myrna Laspinas, a Filipino who is canvassing Asian-American voters this fall in Las Vegas.

The 39-year-old Uber driver has been one of about 30 canvassers working with the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. They have been knocking on Las Vegas doors since the end of September. The APALA canvassers are getting paid $15 an hour through a $160,000 grant from the Service Employees International Union.

The alliance is working alongside other groups to encourage turnout among the roughly 72,000 registered Asian-American or Pacific Islander voters in Nevada. The state's Asian-American or Pacific Islander population has grown 167 percent since 2000.

The alliance is pushing specific candidates, like Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen in her bid to unseat GOP Sen. Dean Heller. It’s a new strategy that goes beyond voter registration and civic engagement, said Kathleen Flores, a coordinator with the alliance.

“We’re trying to let her win, Jacky Rosen, because she’s fighting for higher pay, higher minimum wage, and good education, better health — that’s why I’m here,” Flores said.

Asian-American or Pacific Islander voters are politically diverse, she said, so canvassers will start off their conversations with voters talking about issues like public education and immigration rather than making the candidates the focus.

“If we strongly push the Democratic (candidates), then we lose them,” said Vivian Chang, APALA civic engagement fellow. “So, we strongly are pushing the issues.”

Laspinas, a Las Vegas resident for 28 years who is originally from the Philippines, said she got involved this year to fight for better education.

A friend urged Laspinas to get a job canvassing, she said, and the issues help keep her going door to door even in the face of occasionally annoyed residents.

The effort mainly targets Democratic voters, and Laspinas said those who support Rosen and Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, who is running for governor, tend to cite education and health care among their top issues.

When she comes upon voters who resist APALA's message, Laspinas said she tried to get through to them in a variety of ways.

“I’ve dealt with different kinds of people," she said. "It just depends, it’s psychology. If someone’s upset, you cannot be strong to them. If someone doesn’t want to talk to you, you cannot come out strong as well.”

Last week, Laspinas and three other canvassers set off in a Las Vegas neighborhood using an app to help coordinate their movements to registered voters in the area. Occasionally picking her way through Halloween decorations and ducking under low branches, she knocked on doors and left fliers behind for those who didn’t answer.

The group’s canvassers had been through the neighborhood previously, and Laspinas and her fellow canvassers were looking for those voters they had missed. She picked up fliers that had fallen, saying it’s disrespectful to leave pamphlets on the ground.

At one house, a resident answered his door after several rings of the doorbell. Laspinas introduced herself, asked for a name and chatted with the resident about casting a ballot for Democrats. The resident said education was one of the reasons he supported Democrats, and Laspinas shook his hand before leaving.

“It’s just the way they approach you,” Laspinas said. “So, you have to change your attitude, and then get to them.”

Laspinas said that even when she’s canvassing with a group of people she doesn’t regularly work with, the issues keep them motivated.

Chang said it was important for canvassers to have an attitude like Laspinas, who is energetic and positive in her approach.

“For the most part, when you’re knocking on doors, it’s maybe one out of 10 people who open the door, if you’re lucky,” Chang said. “And a lot of that has to do with just how friendly you are and how much you are kind of exuding a good vibe, a good energy.”

SEIU is investing in the alliance’s program this election cycle because the union knows the importance of meeting the needs of a culturally diverse community. The grant covers canvassing, phone banking and other outreach.

“All unions are pretty connected, but to have the local here really invest heavily in such a program like this represents their understanding that Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are important to reach out to, one, but also their membership has a ton of Filipino workers and APIA members,” Chang said.

The group has dialed about 40,000 Asian-American or Pacific Islander residents who are registered to vote, Flores said.

In her 25 years of working with APALA, Flores said she’s seen the younger generation get more involved than their parents and, often, political engagement increases the longer immigrants live in the U.S.

Activism can also depend on background, with Asian-American or Pacific Islander voters coming from a wide range of countries. The Hmong community didn’t have a word for vote when Flores first became involved in the community, she said.

Filipinos are more politically active, but bribing voters is common in the Philippines, Flores said.

“They don’t hand out literature in the Philippines when they door knock, they hand out pesos,” Flores said.

“When they go to a poverty area (in the Philippines), they would rather take your rice than your beliefs.”

Voters know that isn’t the case in the U.S., Flores said, but the group takes pains not to blur the line. Its canvassers won’t even offer a candy bowl when registering voters.

“We went to that extreme,” Flores said.

Election Day is Tuesday. There are 172 voting centers Clark County.