by Hailey Wu
Around election season, I spend most of my time doing voter education, hosting ballot parties, and organizing candidate forums. Most of our clients at Asian Counseling and Referral Service are elderly immigrants and refugees, so the rooms are always full of people speaking Cantonese, Mandarin, Lao, and more. Everyone is excited to hear the explanation of the initiatives, talk about the candidates, and get their ballots cast.
However, our participants have always struggled to understand the “advisory votes,” those questions that ask if we want to maintain or repeal various tax laws. I would always tell our clients to skip them. Although it was unclear to most voters, advisory votes actually never had any power to change our laws. We needed to save our workshop time to discuss the votes that actually made a change in our community.
That’s why I’m thankful our lawmakers did the right thing this year and removed these unnecessary barriers to voting. Senate Bill 5082 has officially taken advisory votes off of our ballots, replacing them with a website of truthful information about our lawmakers’ tax decisions.
This is the latest step Washington has taken to make our democracy more open to all, especially people who go through so much to get the right to vote. Chasing the American dream is hard, and immigrant families go through so much — discrimination, struggles to get citizenship, and language barriers that keep us from communicating with other people.
As an immigrant myself who just recently became a naturalized citizen, I was excited to finally get to vote. Back in my hometown in China, there was not much education around civic engagement. Here, everybody wants to vote for people and policies that will be valuable for our community.
I learned from my own experience that the advisory votes made our ballots confusing and overwhelming. Even after attempting to translate the advisory vote section of the ballot, I found the language difficult to understand.
For years, these advisory votes have made people who need help feel like we aren’t qualified to vote, or feel like nothing we vote on matters. This was unfair to new voters like me. I spoke up to call for their removal because I didn’t want others to feel that way, or to be discouraged from voting in the future.
Eliminating advisory votes means my job will be easier both as a voter and as a person who helps others vote. People used to come to me all the time asking me to explain the advisory votes. Now, I can save my time for initiatives and candidates. Voting will be less confusing, our ballots will be shorter, and every vote will now count for people who can actually do good for our community.
Advisory votes just created another barrier for our communities, especially our Asian and Pacific Islander communities. For people like me who are celebrating our new citizenship with our friends and preparing to vote for the first time, it is now a bit easier to finally make our voices heard.
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The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Hailey Wu is the community engagement coordinator at Asian Counseling and Referral Service and a member of the Washington Voting Justice Coalition.
📸 Featured Image: A voter casts their ballot during the primary elections in 2022. (Photo: Jaidev Vella)
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