July 23, 2015
Many immigrants come from non-democratic or pseudo-democratic countries, and they bring with them the assumptions about voting that they developed before emigrating. Well after they become naturalized American citizens, many continue to hold false assumptions about the voting process here in the United States.
Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC), a nonprofit based in Denver, works to educate newly registered and infrequent voters within immigrant communities in Colorado. CIRC Executive Director Julien Ross tells a story that he says is fairly typical:
“One of our canvassers spoke to a 19-year old first-time voter whose parents immigrated to Colorado from El Salvador without status. He was born in the United States, and he is the only registered voter in his household. This was the first time anyone had ever spoken to him directly about elections and voting. He had just checked the box to register when he got his driver’s license last year. He talked about having friends in his school who were DREAMers but they were afraid to come out.
“He said he was also afraid to get involved politically sometimes. He asked if his votes would be public or if they would be confidential because in Mesa County he doesn’t agree with a lot of his classmates on issues like the minimum wage and immigration.
“We explained that voter registration information is public, but everyone’s votes are confidential and it is safe and private to vote. After a 15-minute conversation, the young man said he would vote and was planning to vote for issues like the minimum wage and the DREAM Act for his friends.”
Personal contact with the right information is sometimes all it takes for hesitant immigrants to gain the confidence to vote. With the help of Voqal Fund, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition is working to grow the newly-naturalized voting electorate.