The 2012 U.S. Presidential election is very close and both candidates agree that Ohio will decide who gets elected President of the United States come November 6. That is why we have a political rally by one of the candidates almost every day. The state of Ohio is a microcosm of the United States with its Republican stronghold on Southern Ohio and its Democratic northeast cities of Cleveland, Youngstown, and Akron. Central Ohio, which includes the City of Columbus, is considered as the truly swing part of Ohio and it is crucial in choosing the next President of the United States. Columbus is home to the second largest American-Somali community in North America.
The latest Ohio polls show a very close race with a slight advantage for the President just a week to go before Election Day. The race is basically tied at 45% for each of President Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney. The edge for President Obama is explained by the difference between the candidates among early voters, two thirds of who voted for President Obama. There are more than 18,000 Somalis who are U.S. citizens in Central Ohio and it is this community that will cast the decisive vote in this year’s Presidential election. Many American-Somali voters have already cast their ballots for the candidate of their choice and many more will vote on or before Election Day. So far, the two candidates and their Democratic and Republican parties have responded to this reality in different ways.
The Republican Party:
The Party of Lincoln has not done anything to reach out the Somali community at all. In fact, an elected Ohio leader who is Republican told a group of Somali leaders “I do not need your votes!” early last year. This statement was made both, may be, there was no election at the time and that the leader in discussion was not due for reelection. Now, as the election fever heightens throughout Ohio, and as each candidate’s operatives look for ways to outmaneuver the other, the Somali community has been put on the spotlight by Sarah Marie Brenner, a Republican Councilwoman in Powell, Ohio, and the wife of first-term Ohio State Representative Andy Brenner, who wrote a column at Human Events and described a secret plot to reelect President Obama in Ohio by using “Democrat interpreters[who] show the non-English speaking Somalis how to vote the Democrat slate.” Using an anonymous source, she further states that “there are not any Republican Somali interpreters available.”
This is allegation is not only unfounded but also very dangerous as evidenced by the more than 2000 angry and negative comments that the column has triggered in two days. Accusing a whole law abiding community and portraying U.S. citizens as illegal immigrants because you suspect that they would vote against your candidate or they just look different is also utterly irresponsible. Brenner presents no proof for her allegation neither is her theory of vote rigging even possible. When a voter comes to the election station, they are required to fill out a form with their name, address, and date of birth as well as their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number. They sign this form and present it to a poll worker who checks the accuracy of the information and validity of the voter’s registration. With Republicans holding majority in both chambers of the Ohio legislature, the governor, the secretary of state, and the attorney general, there is no way to substantiate that they left loopholes to be manipulated by the Obama campaign. Besides, the statement that there are no Republican Somali interpreters speaks volumes about the Republican Party’s lack of grassroots outreach to this vast community. I know Somalis who would be willing to volunteer for the Republican Party including those who launched somaliGOP.com in the last election cycle.
Instead of accusing the Somali community of rigging an election to reelect President Obama, the Republican Party needs to come to terms with the new realities on the ground in Ohio and to understand the nature of the Somali community in Ohio which cannot be written off any more. I am confident that they would be amazed by the amount of support they get if they invested in a serious effort to reach out to the Somali community, should Republicans decide to engage this vital voting bloc in Central Ohio. Somalis by nature are conservative people who staunchly value the family and entrepreneurship, two important issues for the Republican Party as well. If no Republican has ever become President of the United States without winning Ohio, it may be true that no candidate will win Ohio without the Somali vote.
The Democratic Party:
The Obama campaign and the Democratic Party established a strong presence in the Somali community in Ohio. Each time a democratic candidate runs for office in Central Ohio, from City Council to President of the United States, they ensure to engage the Somali community by employing campaign staff, interpreters, drivers, call center associates, and various consultants. This is good but not enough. While there are some elected Democratic leaders in Central Ohio who are supportive of the Somali community, some of them disappear as soon as they are voted in and return once they are due for reelection. This has to cease and leaders have to stop making excuses when they are in office or else the community will take note.
The Somali Community:
There is a heightened drive to exercise the democratic right of voting among new American citizens of Somali origin. This is a very good thing and important strength for a community that came to the United States to escape anarchy in their country of origin, Somalia. This community will continue its tradition of civic engagement by voting for candidates who listen to their voices and even by fielding candidates to vie for elective posts in the near future. As I wrote in another article in 2009, this is the community to watch as it exercises its citizen rights in Ohio, America’s most important state in this election year and always.
Somalis in Ohio: please vote one, vote all! The vote in your hands may determine the outcome.
Jibril Mohamed is a Lecturer at the Ohio State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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