WASHINGTON, DC—Arab Americans worried about voter intimidation on Election Day are relying on a phone call to quell their fears.
Last month, the Arab American Institute (AAI) launched a hotline to answer election-related questions in Arabic and English. All day from 6 AM to 11 PM on Tuesday, staff and volunteers gathered at AAI’s office in DC to field calls coming to the #YallaVote Hotline.
One caller in Georgia complained that another voter tore up her registration card, and said, “‘You don’t have the right to vote, here,’” said Nadia Aziz, AAI’s government-relations director, who’s been answering calls since 6 AM.
Another caller in Texas said a poll monitor told her she couldn’t vote because she didn’t have a registration card. But in some states, people can sign an affidavit that confirms their identity, then cast a ballot. “The poll monitor turned the Arab-American voter away without telling her that she has an alternative,” Maya Berry, AAI’s executive director, told me.
Launched in 1988, #YallaVote is a voter-mobilization and education campaign that focuses on large and politically contested states with high concentrations of Arab Americans, including Florida and Ohio. Yalla means “let’s go” in Arabic, so the hashtag translates to, “Let’s go vote.”
“In an election year like this where we have seen this level of bigotry, we had to step up our #YallaVote effort and the hotline is a part of that. In addition to calling and emailing voters, holding events in states, releasing voter guides, we had to create a vehicle to help voters while they cast their ballot,” Berry said.
“This is the first election where we launched a #YallaVote hotline. That is partly a product of how unfortunate the last year has been in terms of the political rhetoric that we have seen.”
Muslims and people perceived to be Muslims, such as Sikhs who wear turbans, have faced rampant Islamophobia, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It reported an “unprecedented spike” in anti-Muslim hate crimes “attributed at least in part to statements and policy proposals made by public figures like GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and others.” A May report from Georgetown University confirmed CAIR’s statement, saying that there were 53 Islamophobic attacks in December 2015. In comparison, nine month earlier when the election season started, there were only two such attacks.
But Berry says the Arab-American community is fighting back. “In the Arab-American community there is a sense of: My push back to the negative rhetoric is going to be my vote,” she explained.
A recent AAI-commissioned survey of 502 Arab Americans conducted by Zogby Analytics revealed that 60% planned to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, while 26% planned to vote for Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Alaa Basatneh is a human-rights activist and a writer at Fusion focusing on the Arab world. She is the protagonist of the 2013 documentary "#ChicagoGirl."