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Press Release: NAKASEC Reflections on the 2008 Elections

By November 7, 2008 No Comments

For Immediate Release
November 7, 2008

Contact: HyunJoo Lee, NAKASEC, 323-937-3703

NAKASEC Reflections on the 2008 Elections

From the Election of the First African American President…
(Los Angeles, CA) November 4, 2008 was a monumental day in American history. For many, faith in the possibility of uplifting the lives of all Americans was rekindled with the election of Barack Obama — not just because he is the first African American and son of an immigrant but because of his extensive background in grassroots community organizing and public service. EunSook Lee, executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium said: “President-elect Obama enjoyed the support of most voting constituencies including immigrants, Korean Americans and Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders according to exit polls we participated in. In his victory, many of us who work for change are optimistic about the prospects for realizing change.”

Locally, in Los Angeles, Korean Americans were part of the defeat of Proposition 6, which would have increased funding for prisons, increase criminal penalties for some crimes, and try youth fourteen years or older charged with a “gang-related” felony as adults, even for nonviolent crimes. Prop 6 would have also denied bail to immigrants thought to be undocumented and require local law enforcement to notify federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the person’s arrest and charges. Immigrant and Korean American communities successfully mobilized to defeat this draconian proposition with 70% of voters opposing the initiative.

That same night however, the basic civil rights of gays and lesbians were stripped away with the narrow passage of ballot initiatives banning gay marriage in California, Florida, and Arizona. EunSook Lee continued: “The 2008 elections highlighted the tremendous strides this nation has taken, but also exposed the urgent need to advance an equality rights agenda for all. From resolving the economic crisis to the passage of just and humane immigration laws and health care reform, we intend to be part of a large scale movement of people who contribute our best to build a better future for all Americans.”

…to the Unprecedented Engagement of the Korean American Electorate
The record breaking turnout of the general population was mirrored by similar high turnouts for immigrant and Korean American voters. “Our phones were ringing off the hook all Election Day with more than 600 calls logged from voters, many mobilized for the first time. With almost half-a-million registered voters nationwide, the political presence of the Korean American community is growing very strong,” said Dae Joong Yoon, executive director of the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles.

In addition to participating in exit polls focusing in Asian American and Pacific Islander voters in multiple cities, NAKASEC and its affiliates monitored polling places in Los Angeles and Virginia. And, for the first time in Chicago, 15 bilingual election judges were recruited to work at polling places with high concentration of older Korean American voters. The institution of bilingual election judges and materials was the result of persistent advocacy by our Chicago affiliate, the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center (KRCC). Inhe Choi, senior organizing director of KRCC explains: “78% of Korean Americans are immigrants and 76% speak Korean as the primary language at home. This translates to the importance of in-language assistance. It also means that election protection and voter rights monitoring at the polls is crucial in immigrant communities like ours which have a high number of limited English proficient community members,” said Inhe Choi, senior organizing director of the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center in Chicago.

Summary of Exit Poll Results
While exit polls are still being tabulated, initial results for Korean American voters in Southern California include:
• 60% voted for Democratic candidate Barack Obama and 40% voted for Republican candidate John McCain
• 27% were first time voters
• 56% were Limited English proficient and 56% used bilingual voter assistance

While percentages are unavailable for Virginia and Chicago, similar levels of support for Democratic candidate Barack Obama over Republican candidate John McCain were identified. In a local race in Chicago, preliminary results found that majority of Korean American voters voted for the Democratic candidate Dan Seals over the Republican incumbent Mark Kirk.

A more detailed analysis and report on the exit poll results of Asian American and Pacific Islander voters will be released at a later date. Polls were conducted with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California and Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) serves as board co-chair of APIA Vote and is a member of the We Are America Alliance. NAKASEC is a 501(c)3 nonpartisan organization.