Here in Georgia, this election season has been incredibly exciting with the rising electorate – women, minorities and voters under 25. At the same time, our organization, the local CWS affiliate, has merged with one of our long-time community partners to become New American Pathways.
This merger has allowed us the opportunity to expand our work into areas we’ve only been able to touch upon in the past, one of which is community engagement. I knew immediately that one project I wanted to start was voter registration and education. I knew that registering voters was not just personally rewarding, but could make a huge impact for those we reached and for our state. And as the wife of a new American – who would be voting for the first time in this election – my passion for voter engagement was ignited.
Our first steps have been to work with our local partners to help register voters at USCIS naturalization ceremonies, where we see many former refugees become citizens. We’ll work anywhere from one to four ceremonies per week, and at each ceremony we help register 80-110 new citizens with our partners. These are some of the most excited new voters you’ll ever meet! You’ll never have to beg or plead with them to sign up.
At my very first ceremony I was helping a woman to fill out her paperwork, explaining the checkboxes at the end of the form, one of which stated she was a citizen. Her reaction was the biggest smile I saw all day: “Oh yes, I can say I’m a citizen now. I’ll put a big check on that one!” She was so excited, not just to be a citizen, but to say it proudly and immediately act upon it.
On top of registering new voters, we’re going to be spending Election Day out in the field in Clarkston – where many of our clients live – to help first-time voters with any questions they may have about voting. We’ll be answering questions around voter ID issues, polling place locations and other common points of confusion. We’ll also be serving in a way as Election Protection detail – and we’ll be reporting any incidents we see to our state partners who can then contact the elections board. Our top priority is to make sure everyone in our community has a chance to make their voice heard this Election Day.
At New American Pathways, we’re dedicated to a continuum of service. We work with people from the moment they arrive, until they become citizens. But, honestly, we serve them long after with these efforts. Not only do they gain valuable resources and education tools, they also have a place to get involved and to give back by becoming volunteers and educators themselves. We see this as a great way to empower refugees for their next season of life – for their role as community leaders and changemakers.
Refugee leaders who recently became municipal leaders have made a huge impact in our community. Their success started with education about how our government works, registering to vote and then engaging in the process. Now we just need to expand the list of engaged refugees. We’re excited to be a part of that – particularly this Election Day – to educate our community and to help new Americans participate on all levels.
Stephanie Jackson Ali is the Communications and Policy Coordinator for New American Pathways, the CWS refugee resettlement affiliate in Atlanta, GA