Refugees find voice in U.S. elections

Posted on April 19, 2012 at 8:51 am

By Emily Nohr

Fasta Marodama wants her voice to be heard in this year’s presidential election. After all, with two young children and another on the way, she has four futures to look after.

Marodama, a 24-year-old refugee from South Sudan, is looking for the candidate who speaks about issues she cares most about, like Medicare, taxes and jobs.

“But we care about anything they do in the U.S. because it’s important,” she said.

This election season has many local refugees talking.

Lancaster County Election/Jury Commissioner Dave Shively stands in a room with nearly 200 ballot boxes in preparation for the 2012 election. / Photo by Charlie Litton

For some refugees, like Marodama, this election is the first American election they will vote in. Choosing a candidate – as well as which news organization to turn to for information about candidates and their policies – is a difficult task, she said.

Because English isn’t her first language, she sometimes refers to websites in her native language. Other times, she watches local and national TV programs.

Still, picking a candidate is proving to be tough, she said.

“You see a lot of faces, but you don’t know who is good,” she said of the numerous candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. “Everybody is looking for which one is the good one.”

For other refugees, like Zenun Vidusic, learning about the American election process is difficult because it’s wildly different from elections in their home countries.

When Vidusic was still living in Kosovo, election fraud was rampant, and the government often forced voters to select certain candidates, he said. He first participated in an election there at age 18.

But now, at age 42, he’s excited about his first American election because, he said, he thinks it may be the first time his voice is truly heard.

Vidusic is looking forward to his first experience voting in the United States. The act of voting, though maybe a small act, helps him feel like the United States is truly home.

“It’s different here, but in a good way,” he said, grinning.

Fahran Mohammed agreed. When he lived in Iraq, his home country, he participated in elections, but ones where he felt his votes never counted.

“They act like an election (in Iraq), but we never really had one,” the Iraqi refugee said. “They lied and cheated and forced you to make your vote for a candidate.”

That’s one of the main differences Mohammed saw between American and Iraqi elections first hand when he voted for the first time in 2008. He’s not the only Iraqi to think American elections are something special.

Having a say in the election process leads to other parts of one’s life, he said.

“(Everyone) wants to come to the U.S.,” he said. “They have a good life here, and can do a better job.”


Getting ready to vote

In Nebraska, this year’s election is split into two parts: the primary election on May 15 and the general election on Nov. 6.

In the primary election, voters select candidates to run in the general election. In the general election, voters select candidates for the country’s major offices, like president of the United States.

Lancaster County Election/Jury Commissioner Dave Shively sets up a portable voting booth as he prepares for the 2012 elections. / Photo by Charlie Litton

To register to vote in either the primary or general election, you must be a U.S. citizen and must fill out a Nebraska Voter Registration Application. These forms are available at county election offices, online, at the Department of Motor Vehicles and various public assistance agencies.

The Lancaster County election commissioner is also conducting voter registration at several additional places in Lincoln between now and April 26.

You must complete the application, which requires your name, date of birth, address and driver’s license number. You also must designate your party affiliation. Your choices are:

Democrat. A member of the Democratic Party is someone who typically favors government activity, higher taxes among the wealthy and more liberal social policies. President Barack Obama is a member of the Democratic Party.

Republican. A member of the Republican Party is someone who typically believes in less government control, low taxes and more conservative social policies Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman is a member of the Republican Party.

Libertarian. A libertarian is someone who believes in individual liberty. Libertarians typically oppose government intervention and support lower taxes and more personal freedom.

• Non-Partisan. This means you choose to not affiliate with any political party.

• Other. This means you can write in a party of your choice.

The final part of the application requires you to read the oath to the right and sign it.

To vote in the primary election, applications must be postmarked on or before Friday, April 27. If you or someone else delivers your application in person, it must arrive at the election office on or before Friday, April 27.

To vote in the general election, applications must be postmarked on or before Friday, Oct. 19. If you or someone else delivers your application in person, it must arrive at the election office on or before Friday, Oct. 19.

After receiving your application, a county election official will send you a letter informing you of the status of your application. If your application is approved, the letter will tell you the name and address of your designated polling place — where you will have to go to vote.

On Election Day, polling place workers will ask you your name and address. After voting, you will leave with an “I Voted!” sticker.

If you are unable to vote on Election Day for some reason, you may complete an early voting application. This allows you to cast a ballot starting April 9 for the primary election and starting Oct. 1 for the general election.

You can ask to have a ballot sent to your address. You also can complete early voting applications at the county election office, or find one online and mail or fax it into the county election office.

You will find that the voting process goes much smoother if you do what the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website calls “practicing democracy”: Discuss the various candidates and issues with your friends and family, and learn about the issues from various media organizations.


Finding election information

Here are some good resources for learning more about U.S. and Nebraska elections.

The New York Times politics page has daily coverage of Republican presidential candidate nominees on the campaign trail. It also has a helpful map that shows Republican primary election results.

270 To Win offers a history of voting patterns in every U.S. state.

The Lincoln Journal Star government and politics page provides information about the Lincoln City Council and other local elections.

The Omaha World Herald metro region page as well as its Nebraska Legislature blog provides information about statewide elections, including the U.S. Senate race and state legislature races.

• Nebraska Public Television and Radio − NET News − offers “Campaign Connection 2012: Voter Voices,” an election year project. At select libraries and other locations throughout the state, NET is gathering voters’ thoughts, perspectives and questions to share with the candidates, and the rest of Nebraska, on television, radio, web and social media. You can see and hear what others are saying or add your own voice to the conversation.

Here are some groups that promote voting.

• The Nebraska Secretary of State’s election page offers information about both the Nebraska primary election and general election.

• The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political membership organization that encourages participation in government.

• This video explains how the president is elected through the Electoral College. This list of frequently asked questions also explains in depth various aspects of the Electoral College.

Here are some campaign websites for the presidential candidates, listed here alphabetically, who will be on the 2012 Nebraska Primary Election ballot. For a complete list of candidate filings for the Nebraska primary election, click here.

Roger Gary

Newt Gingrich

RJ Harris

Gary Johnson

Barack Obama

Ron Paul

Carl Peterson (no campaign website)

Mitt Romney

Rick Santorum

Bill Still

R. Lee Wrights


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