New study: Gap in voter registration for California Asian and Latino populations

150 150 Cheryl Getuiza

Graphic courtesy of the League of Women Voters, California

It’s crunch time. The November elections are nearing.  With less than 61 days until voters head to the polls, candidates and organizations are doing what they can to get people to register to vote.

Latinos and Asian Americans could make a big impact in November. They make up half of California’s population, yet according to a new study from the University of California Davis’s Center for Regional Change, Latinos and Asian Americans register to vote in far smaller percentages.

What does this mean? For one, it means these two ethnic groups have proportionately less say in the electoral process compared to the general population.

“During the past decade, Latino and Asian voter registration has increased nearly 40 percent, dramatically outpacing growth in general registration, yet there remains a significant gap between Latino and Asian registration and their proportion of California’s overall population,” said Mindy Romero, a researcher at the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. “Addressing these continuing gaps in Latino and Asian registration is a critical step in expanding engagement in California’s political landscape.” 

Here are some findings from the study:

  • In 2010, 38 percent of the state’s population was Latino, 13 percent was Asian
  • Between 2002-2010, voter registration for Latinos increased 40 percent, raising their proportion of the general registered electorate to 21.2 percent
  • Between 2002-2010, voter registration for Asian Americans increased by 39.4 percent to 8 percent of the registered electorate
  • Between 2002-2010, general population registration increased by 14 percent 

These are promising numbers, however, it’s not all good news. Despite the gains, an additional 520,000 Latinos and 800,000 Asian Americans would need to register to vote in order to raise the registration rates of these groups to the statewide average percentage of voters in the 2010 election, which was 78 percent. 

California Forward Consultant Mike Madrid, an expert on Latino voting trends and founder of Grassroots Lab, offers his thoughts.

“Door to door canvasing has always had the most impact in registering new Latino voters. It’s especially important this year as Latino registration has suffered greatly from the mortgage crisis. As Latino homeowners and renters were disproportionately affected by foreclosures, many Latino voters also dropped from the voter rolls. As a result, Latinos not only have to register new 18 year olds and newly naturalized citizens-the community has to re-register voters who have dropped from the voter rolls.”

Assistant Director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center, Melany Dela Cruz lists several reasons why Asian Americans lag behind their counterparts.

“The whole voting process, the way it’s structured, is very unfamiliar to Asian Americans. As immigrants, many don’t know how to register, or there’s a language barrier or they simply don’t know they are eligible to vote,” said Dela Cruz.

“To mobilize the community to register to vote, it’s important we identify the pockets of areas of limited English proficiency and provide materials to do outreach, to educate them about the issues—issues that impact them—to be engaged citizens. We need to remove the barriers, to make it easier for them to register to vote.”

Mary Anne Foo, Executive Director of the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance said, “I think the Asian and Pacific Islander communities are confused about Sacramento. It’s really hard to navigate Sacramento and the budget and all of the policies–so that’s why I feel it’s important to be really engaged locally with our local officials so they can help us to understand what’s happening and how it affects us here in our own cities and counties.”

Getting more people, from those two groups, to register to vote, sounds like a big task, one you can bet, many political experts are trying to tackle.


Cheryl Getuiza

All stories by: Cheryl Getuiza