By Elizabeth L. White, Marion County Clerk
This Wednesday, just before we celebrate our country’s Independence Day, about 100 immigrants will take an oath of allegiance to the United States of America at a special ceremony held by the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana at the home of President Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis.
This joyous occasion celebrates the very best of our country and is a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a community that welcomes people seeking a better life.
I’m humbled for the chance to be able to participate, welcoming our newest Hoosiers and encouraging them to register and vote.
Since 2009, our office has registered more than 6,000 naturalized citizens living throughout southern Indiana. Some are very sober and reflective about registering to vote for the first time; others are elated that they now are full members of a country where the fundamental fairness of elections is a cornerstone to our democracy.
The University of Southern California estimates naturalized citizens comprised about 2.1% of Indiana’s voting population in 2012, compared to 3.6% nationally. Historically, their participation in elections lags those who are U.S.-born, though recent evidence indicates a slight upward trend.
Interestingly, the data suggests this discrepancy has more to do with barriers in registering to vote rather than the act of voting itself; once registered naturalized citizens participate in elections at a similar rate to those that are U.S.-born. So how do we overcome this hurdle many new Americans face?
One suggestion is to look at the registration form itself. Many states offer voter registration forms in English or Spanish, creating a language barrier for those non-English speakers to fully integrate into our community.
We can also work on our outreach efforts. My office has made it a priority to attend nearly all of the naturalization ceremonies over the last four years. This simple act demonstrates our commitment to inclusiveness.
Hopefully, these new voters will now go back to their home counties and actively participate in the election process whether it’s casting a ballot on Election Day, running for elected office or volunteering to serve as a poll worker.
Our right to vote is the essence of democracy: that everyone can participate, that everyone has an equal voice. As our newest citizens celebrate their first Independence Day as Americans, we should all be reminded of what that citizenship requires – participation.