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In Los Angeles Election, Some Success in Mobilizing Cambodian-Americans

Citizens vote on Election Day at a fire station in Alhambra, Los Angeles County, California, Nov. 6, 2012.

At polling sites in Long Beach, workers and voters reported more Cambodian-American turnout that usual, though by how much remains unclear.

LOS ANGELES - Tuesday saw Americans take to the polls, to vote for the US president, local representatives, and local issues. In Los Angeles County, that meant a lot of people working to encourage voters to get to the polls, and a great number of county workers employed to ensure a fair count.

Khmer speakers had extra help with voting materials this year, and they slowly trickled into polling stations around Long Beach and other southern California cities. The total voter turnout will not see a break down for some time after the election, but voters and registration officials said they expected a greater turnout than usual.

Election Day opened in Long Beach without long lines, but with a lot of enthusiasm from some, like Pov Khem, who stood on the side of the road in the morning, holding a sign in each arm, encouraging drivers in Khmer and Spanish to remember to vote.

“Like a Khmer phrase says,” he explained as the traffic roared by: “Soup tastes better because of its ingredients, and the country is better because of its citizens.”

At polling sites in Long Beach, workers and voters reported more Cambodian-American turnout that usual, though by how much remains unclear.

University student Bandeth Doul said he had noticed more attentiveness to this election within his own family.

“I know that there’s more Khmer people being involved,” he said, standing outside the polling place at a church in Long Beach. “My mom actually asked me what she should vote for, and I’m like, ‘Well what are your views?’”

Cambodian-American voters from nearly 80 precincts continued to cast their ballots as the day continued. The sun set around 5 pm, three hours before polls closed. The dark streets did not deter voters, nor did it stop canvassers who continued to walk the neighborhoods of Long Beach to remind people to get out and vote.

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As the day drew to a close, polling sites closed and ballots were secured in heavy, sealed bags. Each precinct had a separate box for ballots, which were wrapped in red tape and delivered by local law enforcement to Los Angeles County’s Registrars Office, which was in charge of the election. Los Angeles County alone has more voters than many states do, making it a massive undertaking for election officials.

Volunteers removed the bags from police vehicles, in full view of observers and the media, and withdrew the ballot boxes. These were scanned by more county workers into a computer system, to make sure each precinct was accounted for. From there, the sealed boxes were taken to a sealed room, where they were finally removed and counted.

For Cambodian-American Neth Mororom, who was hired by the county to improve voter turnout, Tuesday’s election was the culmination of months of work. He told VOA Khmer he as happy to see as many Cambodians come out to vote as he had.

“More importantly, older folks who came from the refugee camps and now to the US, I met them when they filled out applications to become US citizens, then I met them again at the citizenship ceremony, and then finally at the polling stations,” he said. “I am so happy. But is it enough? No. Because we don’t have our Cambodians who are on the city council, or are mayor. And if we want that, we need to go out and vote for our people. So it starts with more people voting.”