Jirdeh Abdalallah escaped civil war in Somalia to become a U.S. citizen in
2000, a year in which his new country was split not by tribal bloodshed but
by a presidential election.

Mindful of that lesson in democracy, he mailed in his absentee ballot last
weekend, the first time the Seattle man has voted here.

“We were foreigners. We don’t know all the situation in this country,”
Abdalallah said yesterday, explaining why he hadn’t exercised his voting
rights before. “Day after day, we understand the situation. … Now it’s
time to vote — everyone — because it’s a presidential election.”

The election is driving interest skyward in the ethnic and immigrant
communities, where concern over the Iraq war, civil liberties and health
care has prompted thousands of people of color to register to vote for the
first time.

Several local organizations have targeted specific groups in their
campaigns to increase voting by Muslims, Asian/Pacific Islanders, African
Americans and Latinos.

“With a presidential election, it’s like a worldwide presidency — the
interest is tremendous,” said Cheryl Lee, president of the Korean American
Voters Alliance, which held its convention last weekend. “We’re getting
lots of phone calls — people like my granny’s friend — asking, ‘where do
I vote, where do I call?’ I’m delighted.”

A joint campaign by Hate Free Zone Washington and the Seattle chapter of
the Council on American Islamic Relations has registered more than 1,200
voters, mostly Muslims. The advocacy groups are presenting information this
week in several cities on the electoral process, candidates and issues


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