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US-Cambodian Activists Emerge in Election

Last week, Thel Sar, a probation officer and community activist, spent some time inspecting electronic voting machines in his hometown of Lowell, Mass. The machines will be used when America votes on Nov. 4, choosing, among other representatives, their president.

"I was responsible for the inspection of numerous voting-machines to ensure that the machines will work properly on Election Day," he told VOA Khmer.

Thel Sar is a member of Lowell's election commission, and, he said, "I have many responsibilities."

He is among a number of Cambodian-Americans who are finding ways to contribute to this year's vote, in which a tight presidential race has emerged between senators Barack Obama, for the Democrats, and John McCain, a Republican.

Another politically active Cambodian is Gafour Peang, a social worker in Virginia, where he helps promote voter participation through the state's Fairfax county Election Committee.

"As an active member and staunch supporter of the Democratic Party, my goal is to convince voters in Fairfax county to elect Obama as US president for the next term," he said.

Virginia, which has traditionally voted Republican, has leaned toward the Democrats in this year's election, he said.

"Despite the party switch in the state, there is still a large Cambodian-American group that is Republican," he said.

Thel Sar said that many Cambodian-Americans in Lowell have registered to vote for the first time in recent months. He estimated that the total number of Cambodian-Americans registered to vote now is close to 10,000. In years past, he said, the number never reached 6,000.

"The city of Lowell is home to at least 30,000 Cambodian-Americans," he said. "This year, there is an increase of Cambodian-Americans registered to vote in the election. This is not typical."

Those who are registered worry about voting machines, he said. Such machines have been controversial in some states in previous elections, but Thel Sar said the Election Commission was preparing voters to properly cast their ballots.

He was doing his part to minimize the chance of problems among the machines, he said.

Meanwhile, he said, an election organization called the Asean Committee was prepared to help non-native English-speakers with proper translation so that they can make informed decisions on Election Day.