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A 'Civic Duty' To Take Seriously: First Time N.H. Voter On Participating In Elections

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A lot of voters are feeling anxious about the outcome of this presidential election, no matter which candidate they support. Leading up to Election Day, NHPR's Morning Edition is talking with people who haven't voted much in the past, or maybe have never voted before.

If you don't typically vote, or if you've never voted before, we want to hear from you - write to us at elections@nhpr.org or fill out our survey.

Arnold Mikolo, from Manchester, moved to the U.S. from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012. He became a U.S. citizen last year, which means this year is the first time he'll be voting in a U.S. presidential election. Mikolo spoke with NHPR's Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley.

Get stories and updates about the 2020 Elections in your inbox - sign up for NHPR's Rundown and Primarily Politics newsletters today.

Rick Ganley: How does it feel to vote in your first U.S. presidential election?

Arnold Mikolo: Well, it's a very exciting feeling because, you know, I'm fulfilling my civic duty, and being able to vote as an American citizen for the first time is definitely an exciting feeling.

Rick Ganley: I know you've been in the U.S. now for about eight years. What was it like to live here and not be able to vote for that time?

See NHPR's guide to voting in New Hampshire in 2020.

Arnold Mikolo: You know, I've been always civically engaged in my community. I've participated in a lot of volunteer work. And just to learn the American politics, the American government, you know, how it works, and how it impacts me and how policies that elected officials are passing are affecting my daily life, I think to me that is more important than voting. But now that I have an opportunity to vote, I think that it's all coming now to fruition where I'm being informed about the impact and consequences that elections have on our daily lives.

Rick Ganley: Did you participate in elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Arnold Mikolo: Unfortunately not. I was 17 when I left for Uganda to go study my college studies. However, my parents used to vote and I used to see how they took voting very seriously. So from early on, I've been exposed to parents who took their civic duty very seriously, even back in the Congo, where sometimes the election is not guaranteed that it would be transparent. But they're still voting anyway. They're still exercising their civic duty.

Rick Ganley: I want to ask you a little bit about your feelings about what it means to vote in the United States. Being an immigrant, coming from another country, knowing that half of the electorate in this country doesn't actually vote even though they're eligible to, how does that make you feel?

Arnold Mikolo: Well, I believe that this is the civic duty we all need to take seriously. As a person of color, I know that if I was here maybe in the 50s, I wouldn't be able to vote. So I know that there are people who actually fought for me to have this right to vote, and to be able to cast my ballot and for it to count. Personally, I don't take it for granted because I know the impact that my vote has.

Because when you're a constituent and you have to let the forces call your elected official and tell them that, hey, I'm a constituent and I'm very concerned about this, it's because your vote matters. Not many of the places in the world people have the opportunity to pick up the phone and to call their mayor, their governor, their senator, you know, their congressman and say this is an issue that's affecting me personally. So just having that opportunity, I think you should vote because your vote, not only counts, but also it does matter. And elections has consequences, good or bad.

Rick Ganley: You're obviously very civically engaged. And, you know, you take this very seriously. I want to know what your family and friends and the people that you're with on a daily basis, when you talk with them about politics, what are those conversations like?

Arnold Mikolo: So conversations that we usually have is just to assess candidates, you know, and see who are some of the candidates. Who has the same vision and values that aligns with our visions and values. But also I just say that talking about it is not enough. You still have to go and cast your ballot. So, you know, making sure that you put time aside to go and vote, especially during this pandemic that's been very challenging for a lot of folks, especially the immigrant community. Working second and third shifts, it's not always easy. So just taking measures and precaution to make sure that, you know, you vote either absentee or in person, I think is very important.

And while we are on voting, I just want to mention that the language barrier is also another issue that I've been seeing. New Hampshire is getting diverse, and not everyone speaks English, or at least reads English pretty well. So having it in multiple languages would definitely take that language barrier away for people. Even your typical American, there's so many instructions on that ballot that it's very easy to get lost. So imagine a person whose English is not their first language. That would be another layer of challenge that they have to face.