For eight years now, I’ve investigated how Georgia’s Secretaries of State have amp’d up the old Jim Crow tactics against Asian-Americans. Call it, the New Kim Crow.
This attack on Georgia’s rising Asian-American voting power is part of a vilification of immigrants as "other" — and cannot be disregarded in creating the poisonous tropes which triggered a sick killer this month to target that community.
Asian-Americans, the fastest growing community in Georgia, gave Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff their US Senate victories. That display of political power was long feared by Georgia’s GOP pols who had made Asian-Americans the prime target of vicious vote suppression attacks, from erasing hundreds of voters named "Kim" (sneaky Asian double voters according to the Georgia GOP) to threatening elderly Korean-American registrars with felony charges.
Before the 2016 presidential race, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, armed and ready for combat, raided an office in northern Atlanta. They seized computer files and prepared for mass arrests.
Georgia is filled with violent white supremacist groups. I stood with a passel of them called The Proud Boys at a Macon rally for Brian Kemp hosted by Donald Trump. (I was disguised because I’m not insane.) The Proud Boys, co-sponsors of the Charlottesville mayhem, were founded by Gavin McInnis (tag line: “Hitler was right. Gas the Jews.”).
But the Georgia G-men didn’t do a damn thing about the Proud Boys. The raid was against a group called “10,000 Koreans Vote.”
Their crime was asking a question: What happened to our voter registrations?
[Watch the original report forDemocracy Now.]
A few facts about Americans of the Asian persuasion: Historically, Asian-Americans were the least voting racial group in America. Until recently, only one in three Asian-Americans voted.
And when they did vote, until 2000, they voted Republican, big time: a huge majority voted for George Bush Sr. over Bill Clinton in 1992. Then, something happened. Beginning with Bush Jr.’s election and accelerating through 2020, Asian-Americans began voting as if they’d turned Black: In 2012, 73% of Asian-Americans voted for Barack Obama.
Need proof of the change? Check out Voting Gangnam Style on Vimeo. At the end of the video, one Korean student turns into John Lewis. Excellent joke.
But the GOP isn't laughing. They knew that if these citizens were allowed to register and vote at the level of Caucasian-Americans, Stacey Abrams would be Governor of Georgia, and Donald Trump would still be a reality show host.
Why did Asian-Americans switch parties?
Maybe it was the “War on Terror,“ which looked an awful lot like a war on Muslims. And then there’s the Republican war on immigrants, which is new: Ronald Reagan issued the first “amnesty” to undocumented migrants.
And its demographics: Asian-American citizens are a young group, more interested in the right to an education than the right to a gun. They liked Obama. He’s cool. Trump weirded them out.
The Republican Secretary of State took notice — and he called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The key target of the GBI raid was Helen Ho, who had launched 10,000 Koreans Vote. Standing at about 5-foot-nothing, Helen doesn’t look like much of a threat to the state, but she definitely was. A threat to the Good Ol’ Boy network, a threat to then Sec. of State, Brian Kemp and his plan for the governorship, and the Republicans’ last desperate suck on the pipe of the “Southern Strategy,” that is, winning the Confederacy with race-baiting campaigns.
But for 10,000 Koreans to vote, Helen needed 10,000 Koreans to register. And she was getting to her goal, communicating in Korean to a community very wary of getting involved in politics. In 2014, Helen told me she was warned that she would become a target, that the Asian community would be targeted. And, oh boy, was she right.
The group registered about 4,000 Korean-Americans, concentrated in the 6th Congressional District, which the GOP was fighting uphill to hold. Ten thousand Koreans wouldn’t help them.
Helen grew concerned. The names she’d gathered were not being added to Georgia's voter rolls. When she called Kemp‘s office, she was told there were no such registrations, the registration forms didn’t exist.
But, Helen, a lawyer, responded, she had copies of the forms. That was a mistake. According to Brian Kemp, it’s illegal to copy a voter registration form. But, if copying forms is barred, how can you prove someone tried to register? You can’t. And that’s the whole point.
When a government acts to prevent voters from registering, that’s a federal crime. A go-to-jail crime. But in Georgia, and too many other states, it’s the victims who face arrest and prison.
Criminal charges hung over Helen and her Korean voter registration volunteers. Ultimately, the bullshit charges were dropped—after two years. But the raid accomplished its real purpose: When I returned to the 10,000 Koreans Vote office in 2017, the door was shuttered, files and computers all gone, registration signs strewn across an empty office. Helen Ho and 10,000 Koreans Vote were effectively shut down.
The suppression of the Asian-American vote is not new. A Presidential Commission on Elections study showed Black and Hispanic voters were more than twice as likely as other voters to get provisional, instead of real, ballots — and that the proportion of Asian-American voters that got shifted to these provisional “placebo” ballots was even worse.
And during my investigation of Kris Kobach’s flawed-by-design Crosscheck voter purge program, I found that in the participating states, Crosscheck identified one in eight Asian-Americans as "potential double voters." The result: thousands of Asian-Americans were purged from the rolls though not one was charged with this crime.
The Senate is now debating the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Without voting rights, we have no other rights, The mass murder of Asian-American women in Georgia underscores this cold fact: no political power, no protection.
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