Posted by Heba Mohammad on October 02, 2018 in Blog

By Ibrahim Diallo

September 25th marked this year’s National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), a national holiday celebrated on the fourth Tuesday of every September to register eligible voters and spread awareness of upcoming elections and local opportunities to become civically engaged. As a premier partner of NVRD, AAI coordinated voter registration events with volunteers across the country as part of our Yalla Vote campaign -- which celebrated its 20th birthday this year!

This year alone, volunteers collectively organized more than 50 Yalla Vote voter registration events across 18 states. Student organizations, such as the University of Southern California: Students for Justice in Palestine, University of South Carolina: Students for Justice in Palestine and the Boston College: Arab Student Association, were just some of the groups who participated nationwide. There were also many community outreach groups who hosted voter registration drives, such as the Arab American Family Support Center in Brooklyn, NY, the Arab American Community Center of Florida in Orlando, and the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon in Portland.

These organizations and individuals not only registered over 600 voters collectively, they also ran smooth voter registration operations throughout the day. Steven Austerer, Yalla Vote Field Organizer in Massachusetts, expressed that the voter registration drive “ran smoothly across all groups involved due to advanced training, constantly generating enthusiasm by sharing information, and a clear commitment on the part of the participants who ranged in age from sixteen to mid-seventies.” Volunteers and interns who have been working with Yalla Vote Organizers over the past months were able to take charge on NVRD and run successful Yalla Vote events on their own. Steven reflected on his volunteers’ progress, saying, “I think back to when the Yalla Vote interns first approached prospective voters with much trepidation. To see them embrace the NVRD activity and to have grown in terms of knowledge, skills, and their desire to be more civically engaged was a testament to their commitment and hard work.”

There were also opportunities for immigrants to familiarize themselves with the voting process. For instance, Basma Alawee, Yalla Vote Field Organizer in Florida, recounted a story about registering Abdul, an 18-year-old refugee from Afghanistan and new American citizen, after he had just passed the test to become a citizen the week prior to NVRD. Needless to say, he was excited to register to vote, help others register to vote, and even more excited to cast his first ballot on Election Day.

As an integrated voter education campaign, Yalla Vote also provides opportunity for volunteers to educate voters on the importance of being involved in the voting process and staying informed of local ballot initiatives. Farah Saad, a Yalla Vote volunteer in Michigan, recounted an experience, saying, “When I was registering voters at LA Bistro, I found out several of the servers were not even registered. We talked about voting for a while, and it was a lot of fun back and forth. By the end, I registered all of them, which was pretty cool. National Voter Registration Day ended up being an educational day for me and I believe for the folks at LA Bistro as well.” 

At a Yalla Vote event in Florida, volunteers were able to engage passers-by in conversation about Amendment 4, a ballot initiative that, if passed in November, will restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated Floridians. Volunteers chatted with a local family about this ballot initiative, which coincidentally meant a lot to the family and drove them all to register and commit to voting yes on Amendment 4 on November 6th.

While the #YallaVote initiative was fun and an overall success, registering people to vote is only half the battle. The second push will come in November, when voters across the country go to the polls to cast their ballots. In the midst of difficult political circumstances, making our voices heard is critical, specifically at the state-level. To find out more about how to get involved with #YallaVote, please visit our webpage to explore opportunities to phone bank, canvass, and protect the vote.

If you want to relive #YallaVotexNVRD, see photos of our volunteers in action on National Voter Registration Day by visiting our Facebook album.

From all of us AAI, we’d like to thank every volunteer who made NVRD a success by managing a voter registration effort and ensuring more eligible voters are prepared to vote in November. We’re proud to have you on our #YallaVote team!

Ibrahim is a Fall 2018 Field Intern at the Arab American Institute.

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