YallaVote responded to unique election with unprecedented voter engagement
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Last week the 2020 general election drew to an end, but not before Arab Americans across the country engaged in the electoral process at historic levels. Through YallaVote, Arab Americans participated in every aspect of this central civic exercise, from serving as presidential candidate surrogates, to running for state, local, and federal office, and from volunteering at polling locations and precincts, to voting in overwhelming numbers.
Arab American Institute (AAI) polling from a YallaVote Tracking Poll conducted in October found that “slightly more than 80% of Arab Americans say they are very likely to vote.” And in Dearborn, Michigan, the city with the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the country, voter turnout increased by 12% over 2016 levels. That increased civic engagement was partly due to historic levels of courting the Arab American vote by some campaigns. As recently as the mid-1980s, Arab Americans faced the “politics of exclusion,” where their participation in the electoral process was shunned and their campaign contributions were returned. But in 2020, Arab Americans saw campaign attention online and at in-person events in key swing states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. Arab American members of Congress, such as Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, launched aggressive get-out-the-vote campaigns in their districts in Michigan and Minnesota, respectively, resulting in historic levels of voter turnout.
Unfortunately, 2020 was also marred by rampant election disinformation. One such attempt was aimed specifically at Dearborn voters, suggesting there was an error in how ballots were being cast. In a model of how state officials should respond to such cases, Michigan’s Attorney General addressed the disinformation directly and visited a highly-concentrated Arab American precinct in Dearborn on Election Day. To combat both misinformation and disinformation, YallaVote enlisted volunteers to monitor social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, TikTok, and WhatsApp. Our volunteers flagged hundreds of instances of disinformation, including posts intended to sow distrust in the U.S. electoral system, posts regarding violent action, and posts intending to disenfranchise voters.
As part of the 866OURVOTE Election Protection effort, AAI again administered the YallaVote hotline for its second presidential election cycle, providing the only Arabic and English hotline in the country. 1-844-Yalla-US was live and provided assistance to voters throughout the 2020 primaries and on Election Day, fielding calls with questions regarding mail-in voting, voter registration, polling location changes, voter identification requirements, and many other important topics. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting changes to the electoral process, the YallaVote hotline was a key resource to inform Arab American voters at a critical time in our democracy.
Given the challenging nature of an election facing unprecedented misinformation and carried out in the middle of a pandemic, YallaVote is grateful to the partnership and support of leading organizations supporting civic engagement, including the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Voter Registration Day, When We All Vote, Common Cause, Democracy Initiative, and Alliance for Youth Organizing. Along with national and local Arab American organizations, these partnerships helped support a highly successful non-partisan outreach effort across the country.
Arab Americans were also candidates for office at all levels. In the next Congress there will be six Arab Americans (Charlie Crist, Garret Graves, Darrell Issa, Darin LaHood, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib). Arab Americans will also serve in state legislatures and city governments across the country.
AAI Executive Director Maya Berry made the following statement:
“In what must be one of the most challenging elections in our nation’s history, Arab Americans were energized and impacted election outcomes in key areas. With higher than average voter turnout and concentration in key states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and Virginia, we saw our community respond to uncertain times with unprecedented engagement. Whether looking at communities often viewed as representative of Arab American voters like Dearborn, Michigan or less-known enclaves like Erie, Pennsylvania, Arab Americans organized, were courted, and delivered. Through the tremendous work of all of our YallaVote local partners and volunteers, we remain committed to ensuring that Arab Americans continue to breathe life into our democracy.”
The Arab American Institute is a national civil rights advocacy organization that provides strategic analysis to policy makers and community members to strengthen democracy, protect civil rights and liberties, and defend international human rights. AAI organizes the 3.7 million Arab Americans across the country to ensure an informed, organized, and effective constituency is represented in all aspects of civil life.