[Editor’s note: After Yuh-Line Niou won the primary election in Assembly District 65, Sing Tao Daily examines the votes the six candidates received in the Chinatown poll sites and concluded that now voters in Chinatown are statistically significant enough to send a candidate to a public office alone. The data is presented in a table attached below the story.]
“This is really a brand new page in the history of participation of the Chinese in politics,” said Christopher Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality. “Niou’s victory told us that as long as we have a qualified candidate whose campaign proposals are supported by people, he or she can win.” From the special election in April to the primary election on Sept. 13, many people were worried that the three Chinese candidates running for the seat vacated by former Speaker Sheldon Silver would dilute the votes of Chinese voters and reduce their chances of winning. But Kui has never believed it. Niou’s victory proved he was right.
In the past 30 years, Chinese candidates in Chinatown had to not only mobilize voters in their own community but also seek support from non-Chinese voters in the nearby Lower East Side, SoHo and financial district. The population of Chinese voters was not big enough and they alone were not able to help a candidate to win.
Over the past two decades, persistent voter education in the community has achieved substantial results. Chinese voters’ interest in voting has grown markedly. Every time there is a Chinese candidate participating in an election, the poll sites in Chinatown see a surge in voter turnout. Niou’s victory in the primary should be attributed to the broad support she enjoyed in and beyond Chinatown. But the data at the Chinatown poll sites show that the power of Chinese voters is much stronger now. If the trend continues, Chinese candidates may soon be able to win based solely on the support of voters in their own community.
Based on the ballot counts in the Chinatown poll sites, Niou swept most of the votes at these sites. And altogether Niou and her two other Chinese opponents, Gigi Li and Don Lee, received more than half of the total votes in the entire district. This was a significant accomplishment.
In the redistricting after the 1990 Census, the Chinese community fought hard but still was disappointed by the new map. The main reason was that the population in Chinatown was not big enough to draw an Asian majority district. Chinatown had to be combined with the nearby neighborhoods to make a political district. But the argument was whether the Chinese voters should be drawn in the same district with open-minded white voters or the Hispanic voters on the Lower East Side who may have similar needs with the Chinese. People and organizations who held different opinions even fought each other in court, for their principles or for their personal interests.
The original intention of redistricting was to provide more opportunity to minorities who were interested in running for office. But because Chinatown did not become a district on its own, no Asian candidate won an election there until 2010 when Margaret Chin became a City Council member. But even her victory was not possible without the support of voters on the Lower East Side.
The state Assembly district is smaller than the Council district. And it has fewer voters. The votes from the poll sites in Chinatown alone enabled the three Chinese candidates to pocket half the votes in the district together this time. This shows the number of Chinese registered voters in the district has increased a lot. This also means a qualified candidate from this community can possibly win the election without reaching for voters in other communities, as long as he or she is able to persuade all voters in Chinatown to cast their ballot for him or her.
So Niou did make history. It’s not only because she will become the first Chinese Assemblywoman in Manhattan, but also because she and the other two Chinese candidates running for office prompted more Chinese voters to vote. And the growth in voter turnout is the prelude of bigger changes.
Chinese voters are able to make their own candidate win single-handedly. This is really the good news coming out of this election.
Table: The votes for each candidate from each poll site in Chinatown
Candidates from top to bottom: Yuh-Line Niou, Gigi Li, Don Lee, Jenifer Rajkumar, Paul Newell, Alice Cancel
Poll sites from left to right: Confucius Plaza, P.S. 2, P.S. 126, P.S. 130, I.S. 131, 111 Center Street, 180 Mott Street