Arab American advocates are asking the city of Dearborn to provide more voting information and ballots in Arabic language with the Aug. 3 primary for local races approaching.
After complaints from civil rights advocates, the city added to its website Thursday an absentee voter registration form in Arabic, said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The city also has had a voter registration application in Arabic on its website.
But Ayoub and others say that while the move this week is welcomed, it falls short of what is needed to ensure the city is offering Arab Americans equal access to voting. Activists said the city still doesn’t have Arabic-language ballots, Arabic-language options on its website to alert non-English speakers to the forms, and there is no drop-off box or satellite location in the eastern part of the city, which has sizable numbers of Arab Americans.
“For a city like Dearborn, which has the largest number of Arab Americans in the country, this should have already been available to our residents,” said Nada Al-Hanooti, executive director of Emgage Michigan, which advocates for Muslim Americans and Arab Americans.
Voters this year will choose a new mayor, with the incumbent not running for the first time in 35 years, and also seven council seats. Several candidates running would be the first mayor of Arab descent in the city’s history if they were elected. The top two mayoral candidates in the nonpartisan August primary will advance to the November election.
Dearborn is about 47% Arab American, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. But voting turnout in areas where Arab Americans make up a large percentage, such as the eastern and southeastern sections, is much lower, according to voting data.
“With the largest concentration of Arab Americans, the city clerk should on his own initiative make sure that all voting information is available in Arabic, including on the web,” Ayoub said. “It’s skewing voter participation and it’s a method of voter suppression.”
Voter data shows that absentee voters from the western part of the city are requesting and casting ballots at a higher rate than the eastern part.
The number of registered voters in the city is 37,548 in the western part of the city, which is 55% of the voters, and 30,137 in the eastern part, which is 45%, Ayoub said.
Out of 7,137 voters in Dearborn who have requested absentee ballots, 5,775, or 81%, are from the western part of the city while only 1,362, or 19% are from the eastern part.
As of Thursday, 2,632 residents have already voted by absentee for the Aug. 3 primary, according to city data obtained by Adel Mozip, a trustee at Dearborn Public Schools.
Out of those who have voted so far, 1,961, or 75%, are from the western part of the city and 716, or 25%, are from the eastern part, which is more heavily Arab.
Ayoub said the data shows that the city’s lack of Arabic materials and outreach to Arab Americans is leading to the disparity between west and east in the number of ballots being requested and returned. And that disparity can lead to weakened political power for Arab Americans, which hurts them as seen in the recent floods that largely affected the eastern part of the city, advocates said. Arab American protesters have accused the city of neglecting flood control in their neighborhoods.
Ayoub and other Arab American advocates said that the city needs to have more Arabic-language options on its website in general. The city of Miami, for example, has Spanish and Haitian Creole options on its homepage, while Dearborn does not provide an Arabic option.
After the June 25-26 floods, the city of Dearborn did include an Arabic-language option for residents to fill out for flood claims. But there were “20 translation mistakes that I can count” and unlike the English-language option, it was in a PDF format that “the people have to print and bring to the city for reporting a flood,” Adeeb Mozip said at the Deaborn City Council meeting on Tuesday.
On July 9, Ayoub sent a letter to Dearborn Clerk George Darany, copied to city council members, saying that “several residents … have expressed concern over the lack of voting information in Arabic available on the official clerk’s office website. Particularly the information about absentee ballots is all in English. Given the large Arab population in Dearborn it would be beneficial to have this information available.”
Darany did not respond Friday to messages from the Free Press.
In his response on July 12 to Ayoub, Darany said there’s not a great need for Arabic-language information.
Darany wrote in an email to Ayoub reviewed by the Free Press: “My office has only recently been contacted by a few residents requesting that election materials be written in Arabic. … In my mind, this means that the need for Arabic election information is not widespread. If so, we certainly would have heard more about it with only three weeks left before the Primary.”
Darany added that his office has Arabic speakers to assist people who come to the office.
“Many Arabic-Only speaking voters come to the Clerk’s Office daily to vote absentee,” Darany wrote. “They usually bring a relative to help them with the translation. If they do not have someone to help them, we have Arabic speaking employees to help.”
Darany said in his email: “I want to make clear that accessibility to voting is provided to EVERY REGISTERED VOTER regardless of what primary language they speak. We are currently working on having sample ballots in Arabic available on the City of Dearborn website and at the polls on Election day. Arabic speaking poll workers are currently being assigned where needed. We also hope to have sample Absentee Ballot Applications in Arabic available soon. Also, a Voter Registration Form is currently available in Arabic on the City of Dearborn website.”
Regarding criticism that the city does not have a drop-off box or satellite in the eastern part of the city, Darany said in a Facebook post earlier this year responding to Ayoub that the drop-off box available at the Dearborn Administrative Center “is located in the center of the city … no more than a 15 minute drive from any resident.”
Darany also said that fewer residents will be voting in the primary and that “the clerk’s office does not have funding from the city, state, or federal government for staffing, training and setting up another office.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: [email protected] or Twitter @nwarikoo
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