Vice President Kamala D. Harris said Wednesday night that Asian Americans have an opportunity to turn their anger over hate crimes against them into political power, as she summoned them to fight efforts in states to restrict voting by mail.
Speaking from the White House to the first virtual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Unity Summit, Ms. Harris said many of the more than 360 bills on voting rules introduced in states in the past year have targeted voting by mail.
“We must see these efforts for what they are,” Ms. Harris said at the summit, hosted by the AAPI Victory Alliance. “Let’s be clear-eyed. They are an attempt to suppress the right to vote.”
She said 64% of Asian-American voters cast their ballots by mail in 2020, and nearly 34% of Asian Americans voted by mail in January’s U.S. Senate runoff races in Georgia, compared to 24% of voters in general.
Referring to statistics that showed a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic, the vice president said, “as a member of this community, I share in that outrage and grief.”
She called on Asian Americans to support Democratic legislation in the Senate to expand voting by mail in the states, as well as other administration initiatives such as higher spending on child and elder care.
“I know this past year has been marked by pain, so much pain for so many, including, and in particular, members of the AAPI community,” she said, using the acronym for Asian-American and Pacific Islander.
“When we saw the targeting, when we’ve seen the hate, when we’ve seen the viciousness of it all … I believe we have an opportunity now to turn that pain into action, to turn that pain, that righteous anger because of the injustice of it, we have an opportunity to turn that into power.”
The Senate is considering a House-passed Democratic voting-rights measure that would expand vote-by-mail options and forbid states from requiring voter ID. Republicans oppose the legislation, calling it an attempt by Democrats to federalize election rules to benefit themselves.
“We have the opportunity to make voting easier, not more difficult, to lift up more voices, not fewer,” the vice president said. “We must start by fighting against attacks on voting rights, and it is happening right before us in so many instances in such a blatant one way, and in an unapologetic way. So we must fight against those attacks.”
It was the first major address for the vice president to recognize her South Asian heritage. She is the daughter of an Indian mother and a Black father from Jamaica.
Ms. Harris said hate crimes against Asian Americans rose dramatically during the pandemic.
She noted that President Biden will soon sign into law a COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that passed the House on Tuesday night by a 364-62 vote.
The legislation instructs the Department of Justice to designate a point person to speed reviews of hate crimes related to COVID-19, which originated in China and thus prompted some scapegoating of Asians, and will encourage more accessible reporting of hate crimes.
“I do believe a harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us, and we should all then recognize that interconnection between each of us,” Ms. Harris said.