Immigrant communities get out the vote at ballot parties

Mehret Tekle interprets a ballot from English to Tigrinya for Hiwat Warde at a multilingual ballot party at New Holly Gathering Hall. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

For some new citizens and refugees, voting can be a novel experience, says Michael Neguse.

“When I came here, I felt like my vote has been heard,” he said.

It was a feeling he first felt when he immigrated to the United States as a refugee from Eritrea and became a citizen decades ago.

“We try to break people of that habit of thinking, ‘my vote doesn’t make a difference’ because of trauma that they bring with them,” Neguse said.

In the run-up to the election, ballot parties for limited-English speakers have been organized by various organizations in King County to help translate voting ballots, and to encourage communities to vote.

Adam Mohamed, a court interpreter, was available to help interpret ballots from English to Somali and Arabic at a multilingual ballot party at New Holly Gather Hall. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)
Adam Mohamed, who works as a court interpreter, was available to help interpret ballots from English to Somali and Arabic at a multilingual ballot party at New Holly Gather Hall. (Photo by Venice Buhain.)

Neguse volunteered at one event, held Friday evening at New Holly Gathering Hall. The event was organized by Somali Community Services of Seattle, Somali Family Safety Task Force, Asian Counseling and Referral Services, Interim CDA, International Community Health Services, and Eritrean Community in Seattle.

Organizers said that interpreters were available in Amharic, Cantonese, Cham, Khmer, Mandarin, Oromo, Somali, Tagalog, Tigrinya and Vietnamese.

The parties aren’t the only way that King County Elections has been expanding the vote in immigrant communities and communities of color. In August, the elections office announced a push for voter engagement in limited-English communities, involving $242,000 in grants and nearly 20 community organizations.

This year, the county also added ballots in Spanish and Korean as an option for voters. The county already provided ballots in Chinese and Vietnamese languages. Other languages could be added in future years.

The elections office already provided voting instructions, though not complete ballots, in several other languages, including Amharic, Punjabi and Russian.

Another ballot party will be Monday Nov. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the ID/C Community Center, 719 8th Ave S., with Cantonese and Mandarin interpretation.

Habiba Hussein of Seattle votes at a multilingual ballot party at New Holly Gathering Hall on Friday evening. (Photo by Venice Buhain)
Habiba Hussein of Seattle votes at a multilingual ballot party at New Holly Gathering Hall on Friday evening, while dancers perform onstage. (Photo by Venice Buhain)
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