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First Time Voters

First Time Voters

Munaf Khalifa waited patiently in a slow moving line Tuesday evening, the 4th of November, along with other new Americans. When he was asked for his name and address, he proudly unveiled a plastic covered copy of his shiny new citizenship document. It was his first time voting, and it wasn't clear he had even properly registered. A patient but weary poll work handed him a provisional ballot, like she had for more than 30 other voters whose names didn't appear on the list of registered voters.

The polling center at the Community Center of Jackson Square Housing Project, with its rows of red, white and blue striped voting booths were like any other in America, and the voters too looked like America, the new America, made up of people speaking a rainbow of languages, bringing with them a wide spectrum of religious and cultural traditions. A small sampling included French speaking Haitians, head-scarf wearing Pakistanis, Hindu men and women from India, and an American-born daughter assisting her Cape Verdean mother vote for the first time.

This scene, an inspiration to progressive ideologists, had its dark side as well. People seemed ill-informed about the process of voting. Some didn't know they had to register in advance to vote. Some had registered but had since changed address, adding a layer of confusion to the process. A few had come to the wrong precinct.

A friendly seeming, multi-lingual South Asian "community leader" made a point of stopping all Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians to instruct them how to vote. (To be clear, not how to understand the ballot, or how to mark the ballot, but which way they should vote.) Here's what he said, "on the ballot questions," do not read through them entirely, or you can become confused. Just remember, "no, no, yes, yes". I.e. No to the tax increase , no to changes in penalties for marijuana possession, yes to ban on greyhound racing, yes to clean energy.

Although many of us may agree on his positions, is this the lesson we want new voters to get? That someone will greet us at the poll, and, in our native language, tell us what to do with our vote?

I believe we should all try to educated everyone on how to vote properly in our country and maximize the number of voters.

Here's a few ideas on how the system could be improved.

1. Auto enroll all adult citizens to register to vote.
2. Allow residents of a town to vote in the polling place of their choice.
3. Consider making election day a work/school holiday to allow for easier voting and help remind people to vote.
4. Disallow people from giving voting advice inside polling locations.


Massachusetts should take a leap and make election day a state holiday. Then the rest of the country might follow along.

I'm down with all your points except #2. This would create chaos and likely voters would mob the cool polling places.

Joe, you might be right about #2.. but there definitely exists a problem that people end up at the wrong polling place. They many not know this until after they've waited in line for quite awhile. I'm interested to hear what others think.. or what solutions are proposed. BTW I read an article in today's Globe suggested a "universal voter registration". "Election reformers are calling for a move toward a "universal voter registration" system, in which the government takes the lead in ensuring that all eligible citizens are registered."

Here's the link


I thought it was illegal to "campaign" within a certain distance of a polling place - of course, if someone is speaking another language, it might be hard to know what is going on...I do agree that rules need to be uniformly determined and applied, and that "how to vote" should be a major initiative directed to everyone who is eligible.

Susan, I think your right, but how shall we enforce this? How often does this sort of "persuasion" take place and how effective is it anyway?

I think that if you are a recent immigrant, particularly from a country in which personal freedoms and civil rights are not a part of the cultural norm, you might be overwhelmingly grateful that someone would speak to you in your language and tell you not only how to vote, but what to vote for....

There was a woman at my polling place wearing a t-shirt of a presidential candidate - even though I supported that candidate, I thought it inappropriate that she was wearing the shirt in the polling place. I think that is illegal, but the poll workers were so distracted by the issue of so many voters not being on the polling list (in Cambridge), that she was not challenged.