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The Story of One New Arizona Voter

Sarah Burris of UNITE HERE sends us this update from Arizona. Burris works in online media. 

I've been on the ground this week in Arizona to help a campaign UNITE HERE invested in this year called Adios Arpaio. Adios Arpaio was a massive voter-registration campaign, aimed at voting out the notoriously anti-immigrant Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, that was led by 2,000 high school students, many of them the children of immigrants. We registered 35,000 new voters, and 70% of them are Latino. I've spent some time here before and many, many weeks since helping with everything I could.  

Coming back after the election,  I think part of me knew what I would hear, the same things we all hear about on the news: sarcastic and racist comments from poll workers, everyone who is different looking gets a provisional ballot...it's the same song for a different election.  There's a familiarity that comes from being a person whose first election was 2000.  This is the state of voting in contemporary America.

But then I met Faez.  A taxi driver at the Phoenix airport, Faez came to the U.S. from Iran five years ago and became a citizen last year.  He missed the 2008 election but watched it closely and was super excited to vote this year.  I sat across from him in a break room at the airport.  Behind us were two men playing ping pong and between Faez and me were two chess boards.  "Do you play?" he asked me.  "I wish!  I want to learn, I just haven't," I said.  "You should, its fun!"  He had a plaid hipster hat on and a big smile - until of course he started talking about voting for the first time in the United States.
As I listened to his story, I shook my head.  Faez did everything right.  He registered to vote.  Maricopa County sent him a letter asking for proof he was American - a birth certificate - they suggested.  He sent them his citizenship certificate.  Three days before the election he got his Voter Identification Card in the mail.  He pulled it out of his wallet to show us the flimsy red, white, and blue cardboard.  "Here it is!" he said as we leaned in to stare like it was a golden ticket.

"I was so excited, you know?" he told us.  "It was my first time.  I've never voted for anybody in my whole life.  Because in my country I didn't belong to any parties or anybody.  And I always said to myself why should I vote [in Iran], because I don't believe them.  But this time it was the first time in my whole life that I was believing to somebody.  And I thought, I'm part of this.  You know?  I'm part of this country."

I was heartbroken.  We let him down.  My country that I love so much let him down.  This is what the right wing talks about all the time, right?  This sense of American exceptionalism and how much better we are.  Yet, a guy who comes here, becomes an official legal American, and is taking part in democracy for the first time in his life is let down.  This was my fault.  This was OUR fault.  My country owed him an apology and a guarantee that we would do everything we could to make sure it never happened to him or anyone else again.  Instead, all Faez got were news reports of still uncounted ballots, missed deadlines and empty promises of an end in sight.

My friends spent seven months working to register more than 34,000 people in Maricopa County.  They worked to get voters to commit to vote.  They called and canvassed to get voters to the polls before or on Election Day.  We all did everything you can do to make a difference.  Today, is the first day of the next election.  In a few months Phoenix will be having its municipal elections again, and our teams are ready for round two.  This isn't stopping.  It can't.  We owe it to Faez never ever to give up a fight to end voter suppression and ensure everyone who wants to vote is registered and able.  Today begins the new Arizona.

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