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Cambodian-Americans Raise Concerns Over Low Voter Registration

FILE - Sek Kosol, director of IKARE in Minnesota state is at VOA's headquarter in Washington DC, on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. (Ten Soksreinith/VOA Khmer)

In Minnesota, an activist says about 2,000 of the local Cambodian community have registered to vote, slightly more than the 2012 election.

Since the first influx of refugees to the United States in the late 1970s, the population of Cambodians in the US has surged to about 300,000.

Like other U.S. citizens, on November 8 those eligible to vote will head to the polls and face a stark choice, between Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Many have already cast early ballots.

Sek Kosol, executive director of IKARE, a non-profit working to preserve Cambodian history in Saint Paul, Minnesota, says about 2,000 of the local Cambodian community have registered to vote, slightly more than the 2012 election.

“Through [the] community assembly at our local Buddhist temple, they encourage one another to vote next week,” he said, adding that a “language barrier” was keeping many away from the voting booth.

Those who will vote, he said, are looking for a candidate who can address the problem of enforced deportations of Cambodians. They want to “make their voice heard and to elect the candidate from the party who can address the pressing issue of deportation in the community.”

In Connecticut, home to about 4,000 Cambodians, many face a daily struggle, working in the local factories.

“The big concern for the community is making ... ends meet,” said Khouch Theanvy, who also expects a low turnout from the community come November 8.

Theanvy, who runs a health care non-profit, notes that many of the older generation “need a lot of help from their children due to language barrier.”

Cambodians are leaning more towards voting for Clinton, she added, “because [the] Republican candidate [Donald Trump] runs to restrict immigrant laws that might affect the community.”

Liang Sidney
Liang Sidney

Meanwhile, in Lowell, Massachusetts, home to the second-largest population of Cambodian-Americans after Long Beach, California, Liang Sidney, a community health worker, senses that this election may see a record high turnout.

“That is because here we have a great deal of organizations getting people to vote, including the Cambodians,” Liang said. “We also have a strong medium of Khmer media, broadcast on local TV and radio, reaching out to educate people on voter registration and their civil rights.”

Leoung Sophorn, president of the Illinois Cambodian Association, said, “to foster our growing relationship with the leaders, we really encourage people to get registered and vote on November 8.”

“This is one of the ways to make our voice heard.”

In Illinois, 80 percent of eligible Cambodian-Americans have registered to vote, Leoung adds.