LOS ANGELES - Each month, the county of Los Angeles, California, swears in thousands of new American citizens. In recent months, hundreds of Cambodians have been granted citizenship here. Voter registration officials see that as a chance to improve the very low number of voter turnout from Khmer speakers.
Tuesday, which is National Voter Registration Day, volunteers will seek more Cambodian voters and help them register across California. This year, the county of Los Angeles will have printed material in the Khmer language to help with the registration and voting processes.
At a recent citizenship ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center, thousands of new citizens—and potential voters—were sworn in by an American judge. Among them were 174 Cambodians. They swore allegiance to the US government, hands raised, at a simple ceremony in a massive conference room.
Standing by was Neth Monorom, a Cambodian-American who works for Los Angeles County. His job is to make sure more Khmer-speakers register to vote and understand the process.
There are at least 50,000 potential voters in the Khmer-speaking population, he said. “But when it comes to voter registration, there are only about 4,000 people. It’s so little. That’s why I want to help get more of our fellow Cambodians to register to vote.”
At the convention center, Neth Monorom passed through the rows of new Americans, encouraging them to fill out their voter registration cards, answering questions where he could and providing assistance to Khmer-speakers.
Sreng Sinat, who was sworn in at the ceremony, said she had registered to vote. This will allow her to cast a ballot for the US president on Nov 6. “I feel like I want to know the process of how they choose the president,” she said.
As the ceremony broke up, and new citizens headed for the exit, Neth Monorom waded into the crowd waving a registration sheet and calling out for people to register. A row of tables, marked “Register Here,” was set up to catch more potential voters, with a group of Los Angeles County employees standing by to assist.
For Neth Monorom, catching the Cambodians it isn’t always easy. Many of them eschew politics, following years of political upheaval back home. Some are wary of registration. Some are just too busy.
“I came here alone and have been busy with work,” said Sarin Suong, whom Neth Monrom helped register to vote. “Now that there’s help available, I decided to become a US citizen.”
There’s a lot of work yet to be done. But that doesn’t worry Neth Monorom.
“To get these folks to register to vote is hard,” he said, “but I’ll try my best.”