Once a Refugee, Now a First-Time Voter

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On a cool, but sunny October day, Rana Almishlib walked up to the Highlandtown Library in Baltimore, MD with a sample ballot held tightly in her hand. As she stepped in, her LIRS colleague, Terry Holthouse announced to the room of early voters and election judges that it was Rana’s first time voting as a U.S. citizen. She blushed when the room erupted in cheers and clapping!

Former refugee votes in Baltimore
LIRS staff member, Rana Almishlib, votes in her first election since becoming a U.S. citizen.

Two hours earlier, Rana had marked the candidates she planned to support and how she wanted to vote on other ballot measures on her sample ballot. Another LIRS colleague, Shirley Bigley LaMotte, had shared the sample ballot and explained that there were many races to vote on as well as local ballot measures. That was a surprise to Rana – she’d only expected to cast a vote for president!

Rana, a former refugee from Iraq, became a U.S. citizen this past summer, which meant she missed voting in the primary election, but joyfully exercised her right as an American to vote this fall. She headed to the polls early because she “heard it gets busy on Election Day.” She added, “I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. I wanted to participate so bad.”

However, it wasn’t Rana’s first-ever time voting. In her home country, she had voted, but only in mandatory and controlled elections where she was forced to vote for a particular candidate. In contrast, she says that when voting in the U.S. she, “didn’t feel oppressed.” She says that voting in the United States is “absolutely different” – it has opened her mind and made her want to learn more.

Rana spent the past few months encouraging friends to register and vote. She says that in the past she “didn’t know people like me could change things here,” but the experience of voting has taught her that in this country, her voice is valued. Vote by vote, former refugees and migrants raise their voices to change and contribute to our communities.

In a country with a history of welcoming newcomers, we celebrate with each new American casting a ballot in what, in many cases, is their first fair and free election.

Back at the Highlandtown Library, Rana filled out the official ballot and scanned it into the voting machine with a satisfied smile. She left with a classic “I voted” sticker and feels good about her experience. Her final thoughts on voting in this election: “very enjoyable – I would do it again!”

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