Indian-Americans Using Facebook to Recruit New Voters

Continuing a trend by ethnic communities to increase voter participation in this election cycle, the Indian American Leadership Initiative has launched a Facebook application to get Desis (South Asians) to vote.

The EveryDesiVote Application on Facebook allows users to scan their friends to see who has a confirmed voter registration. Users are asked to invite friends who are not registered or who don’t have a confirmed to registration to use the tool to check their status or use an online national voter registration application built by Rock the Vote.

The program is one of several initiatives by IALI, a progressive PAC, to increase Indian American participation in this election as well as a sign of how important Facebook and other networking tools have become to political organizing.

The note to IALI members informs them that Indian Americans are one of the, “worst performing ethnicities to register to vote in the U.S.” Nationwide there are about 1.5 million Indian Americans who are U.S. citizens. About half that number are registered to vote, and actual voter participation among that group is low, per a spokesman for the group.

IALI’s goal is to put Indian Americans on the map as a voting bloc that matters, and they are looking for high turnout among the community in states like Virginia and Ohio where they could have a measurable electoral impact.

Last week in northern Virginia, Indian American progressive activists sponsored a South Asians for Obama event where the Indian American actor, Kal Penn spoke. Penn pointed to the “macaca’ incident of 2006 as an example of how the community could be the key to an electoral victory. In August 2006, then -Senator George Allen (R-VA) called a young Indian-American opposition researcher a “macaca” at a public event. The slur was caught on YouTube and galvanized the community in support of Allen’s challenger, Democrat Jim Webb.

“Thirty thousand Indian Americans live in Northern Virginia,” Penn told the crowd of young South Asians and reminded them that Webb beat Allen, the incumbent, by around six thousand votes.

The use of Facebook and Kal Penn as a campaign surrogate for the Obama campaign shows that much of the group’s efforts so far have been focused on second generation Indian Americans. However, the group is reported to also be conducting focus groups with older Indian Americans on their political views, in order to more effectively reach out to them.