Korean-Americans like to vote



A get-out-the-vote drive among Korean-American voters is making them more involved in politics and bigger players in elections, including the one this month.

The Korean-American Voters Alliance (KAVA) estimates 50 percent or more of registered Asian voters cast ballots in the Nov. 4 general election, in which four Asians won office –– two of them in south King County, including Federal Way City Councilman Mike Park.

The total voter turnout was in the 20 percent range in King County and most other jurisdictions. The much greater level of Asian participation indicates that KAVA’s goal of involving Korean-Americans in the democratic process is paying off, said Cheryl Lee, president of the group’s board of directors.

One way is by adding to the ranks of registered voters. More than 19 percent of all new voters in King County in 2002-03 were Korean-Americans. The corresponding numbers in Pierce and Snohomish counties were 18 percent and 14 percent, Lee claimed.

A voters guide published by KAVA and direct-mailed to Korean households and distributed at Korean stores before this month’s election was heavily read, according to Lee. “Greater outreach helps,” she said of that and other efforts to educate voters since KAVA formed in January 2002.

Once they’re hooked, Lee said, Korean-American voters are generally interested in the same issues as most other voters –– education, public safety and small-business development.

The political awareness is especially high in Federal Way, which has a sizable Korean and Asian community. Lee noted that Park, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea, got the most votes among three unopposed candidates for City Council. She said that’s probably because of the added support from Asian voters.

Carol Vu, editor of Northwest Asian Weekly, said there are enough Korean-Americans to make “a sizable voting bloc.” That, plus their leaders who “know how to get things done,” will help KAVA become a political force, she predicted.

“We’re still kind of young as a group at getting involved,” but Korean-Americans have seen they can make a difference, Lee said. For example, Lakewood’s attempt to zone adult businesses into an area next to a Korean business district led to an outcry that made officials of the city in Pierce County change plans.

Another sign of the clout of the 4,200-member, non-profit KAVA was the attention given by major politicians to its second annual convention Sept. 8. The guest speakers included Governor Gary Locke and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen spoke at last year’s convention.

"We're here to make sure that Korean-Americans have a visible presence every election year in our state. A strong education campaign within the community to help people understand the electoral process is critical to this visibility, and our convention achieves both of those goals," Lee said.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565,

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