Posted by Basma Alawee on April 17, 2019 in Blog

March was a busy month for the Arab community in Jacksonville, Florida as residents focused on both the mayoral election and the beginning of the legislative session. 

There were several opportunities for residents to meet the mayoral candidates and ask them questions ahead of the March 19th election. The Arab American community had a strong presence in these spaces. Through the questions posed to the candidates, a few themes became apparent, including public safety and a desire to spend taxpayer money responsibly.  

Some of the questions Jacksonville residents asked include: 

What is your solution to violent crime in our community? 

Would you increase funding for the police department? 

Do you favor the proposed settlement that would have the city take over the Jacksonville Landing at a total cost of roughly $18 million? And, if so, what's your vision for that property? 

Would you consider selling JEA, the city’s utility company? 

#YallaVote played an important role in this election, mobilizing Arab Americans throughout the community to register and become familiar with their ballots. A growing group of active Arab American women participated in a #YallaVote “Picnic to the Polls,” during which the women and their children spoke to voters, shared information, and eligible voters went to vote early during the early voting period.  

Early voting and mail-in ballot turnout was, unfortunately, low, and this foreshadowed low voter turnout on election day. The Supervisor of Elections Office projected 23% turnout among the general population, and the final percentage was 24.4%. This number falls short of the last city election turnout four years ago of 33.7%.  

A notable victory in the city election was that of Arab American Ron Salem. Salem won his race for an At-Large position on the Jacksonville City Council. His campaign priorities included improved public safety, investment in economic development, and neighborhood revitalization. 

After the election, Jacksonville residents refocused their energy on the state’s legislative session. Many advocates travelled to the state capital of Tallahassee to speak about bills which would disproportionately affect immigrant and underrepresented populations.  

Florida’s Amendment 4, the Voting Rights Restoration Amendment, has also been on the forefront of Floridians’ minds. The amendment was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the 2018 election, thereby restoring the right to vote to 1.4 million formerly incarcerated individuals who completed all the terms of their sentence, including parole or probation. 

AAI officially supported this ballot initiative, and organized #YallaVote phone banks in support of the amendment. The will of the people is now being threatened by lawmakers who want to implement new laws which would make the amendment effectively obsolete. Voters are continuously engaging their representatives to protect their voice and the rights of all their neighbors. 

Our work in Florida with the Arab American community has been predicated on one basic ask: we want you, as Arab Americans, to get and remain engaged in elections as both voters and volunteers who help educate other potential voters. Our goal: to empower voters to affect needed changes by electing individuals who care about the community, who understand Arab American experiences, and who can represent the community well at all levels of government.