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US Midterm: Arabic-Language Ballots Await Voters in Michigan

Though nearly half of its population are from Arab origins, Dearborn never offered access to Arabic-language ballots for decades, despite an overwhelming need for them.

The city, home to one of the largest and rapidly growing Muslim and Arab American communities in the US, is finally changing rules, allowing Arabic-language ballots in Midterm vote.

“Arabs are almost half of the city,” said Osama Siblani about his adopted hometown which is home to the Arab American National Museum and the offices of Lebanese-born Sibani’s Arab American News, Voice of America reported.

“We are the oldest, the largest Arab American publication in the country.”

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Siblani started the weekly bilingual publication in the 1980s. For him and other immigrants, each election brought unique challenges for this growing community, many of them recent immigrants just learning English.

“I came here in 1976, and I find some difficulty in writing and reading some of these proposals and understanding them,” he told VOA.

Arabic-language Ballots

In Michigan’s August primary election, for the first time, voters in Dearborn could access official Arabic language ballots to cast their votes.

“The reason is the culture has changed,” Siblani said.

“The actual number of people who speak Arabic at home has increased significantly over the past 10 to 15 years,” said Mustapha Hammoud, elected to Dearborn’s City Council in 2021.

In addition to Dearborn, voters in the midterm election can also now access Arabic-language ballots in Hamtramck, a Detroit suburb with a large Yemeni immigrant population.

“I hope to see at least that over time and in the near future that this will be expanded throughout the state of Michigan,” said Nadia Alamah, a voter outreach program coordinator for the nonprofit organization Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote Michigan.

“It’s good for us to have this everywhere because that way we have the opportunity for our community to feel at home in America everywhere,” she said.

Historically, prior to 9/11, Muslims have tended to be a mixed bag when it came between choosing Republican or Democrat.

According to the New York times, “In 2000, a few hundred votes decided the election; an estimated 60,000 Muslims in Florida voted for Bush”, it shows Muslim attitudes prior to 9/11, were at times, aligned towards more Conservative issues and values that were represented by the Republican Party.  (Senzai, F., 2012)

Almost immediately after the ‘war on terror’, voter attitudes shifted dramatically towards Democratic candidates among Muslims.