Somali community leaders push voter initiative
The Somali community is gearing up for an initiative to get voters to the polls during early voting.
The community, working with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, has been helping those with citizens register to vote as well as educate people on the voting process, including machines.
Abib Ibrahim, who is helping lead the Somali community’s voter engagement campaign, said Somali-Americans are proud to take part in the election of leadership in Nashville.
“As more of us become citizens and are eligible to vote, I believe we have to work together to make sure our community participates in elections. It's our right and responsibility as new citizens,” Ibrahim said in a statement to The Tennessean.
The Somali community is growing and has emerged as a significant voting bloc, said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the coalition. Many who come as refugees are eligible to become citizens five years after resettlement.
The coalition is hosting a voter education dinner at the Somali Community Center to teach people about voting machines and the election process. It has compiled a guide to help people — many of whom would be voting for the first time — learn about the candidates.
The group will “be on the radio, working sort of every day to get folks to the polls,” said Teatro, who expects to have about a dozen events ahead of the election and run-off election.
Part of voter education is explaining the importance of voting for mayor and the council.
The defacement of a mosque in 2010 underscored the importance of who sits in the mayor’s office. Mayor Karl Dean was among the first to condemn the act.
Dean’s stance as well as increased work between the Somali community and the council on taxi licenses has shown the importance of exercising the right to vote, said Teatro.
Fozia Ahmed, a multicultural organizer with TIRRC, said the Somali community is ready work with the new mayor and council.
“Really we're building a culture of civic engagement in the Somali community. This month we're making sure Somali-American voters are going to the polls,” said Ahmed. “Maybe soon we'll have a Somali-American running for office.”
A voting caravan scheduled for Saturday was rescheduled to July 25 because of conflicts with Ramadan celebrations.
Reach Holly Fletcher at 615-259-8287 or on Twitter @hollyfletcher.