BY ELEN ASATRYAN
In early 2012, the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region launched the region wide Hye Votes campaign with the goal of increasing the number of Armenian-Americans registered to vote and ensuring a high voter turnout on Election Day.
I’m proud to say that the hard work and dedication of the ANCA-WR leadership, the Hye Votes staff and the hundreds of community volunteers, has resulted in thousands upon thousands of newly registered Armenian-American voters, creating a sense of excitement and a renewed commitment to making our collective voice heard on November 6th.
The Hye Votes initiative was kicked off under the leadership of the ANCA-WR Executive Director, William Bairamian who made Hye Votes the focal point of the organization’s Executive Summer Internship Program. This initial phase of the campaign included a door-to-door voter registration drive in Little Armenia led by eight young college students and recent college graduates who had no prior campaign experience. In less than 2 months, the ANCA-WR interns singlehandedly registered close to 1,000 Armenian-American to vote.
Given the positive effect of the summer program, the organization opened the official campaign headquarters in late August. Our youngest volunteer at the office was Narek Voskanyan, a 10 year old Glenoaks Elementary School student, while our eldest, an 84 year old veteran supporter of the ANCA who we call Unger Hagop. They were amongst over 300 other community organizations and members who helped make the Hye Votes campaign the first of its kind; empowering an entire community to become civically engaged.
With our office open 7 days a week from 11a.m. until past 9 p.m., in 2 months time, we contacted over 35,000 voters, 3 times over; personally visited over 4,000 households to register them to vote, sign them up for absentee voting and assist them through the voting process; and provided over 250 rides to polling locations on Election Day.
Of all the heartwarming stories to share, there are four that stand out for me personally.
The first being the story of Zabel Krikorian, a 104-year-old great grandmother, grandmother, mother and Genocide survivor who was registered to vote in October. On November 3, the system we use showed that she had not mailed in her vote by mail ballot. I personally visited her that day to ensure that her voice gets heard. Her daughter let us in; Ms Krikorian was sitting on her rest chair in front of the television. As I approached her to say hello, I couldn’t help but tear up as she pulled me for a warm prolonged hug and a kiss – it felt like I was reunited with my grandmother who I hadn’t seen for years. I can go on about all the emotions that ran through me as I heard about her life’s journey and how she insisted that her daughter register her to vote. I’ll hold the full story for a later time and leave you with – it turned out she had mailed her ballot a couple of days ago and she insisted that we take sweets with us as we got up to leave.
Then there was the last day of voter registration, during which the Hye Votes team registered over 400 community members to vote. One of them was an old couple who lived in South Glendale. They contacted our office around 11:15pm that night and we attempted to assist them in submitting their form online, but were unable to because of language barriers. One of our canvassers, who was helping the couple over the phone, hung up and asked me what she should do. We looked at each other and without a word, she grabbed her keys and drove to their home at 11:30pm. When she got back she told us that since they had just spoken, she didn’t bother calling them back to note she was on her way, instead, she knocked on their door and said “Es dzer gisherva yeraznem. Yekel dzez artsanagrem kvearkelu,” which translates to (I’m your dream in the night and am here to register you to vote).
The third story is a very personal one, which includes my very dear friend Art. Over the years, Art and I have engaged in countless political debates, over every topic one could possibly think of. He’s someone who is extremely informed about the different candidates and issues facing our nation and our community. Art has an opinion about everything, but for the most part we agree to disagree. So imagine my shock when I learned that after all these years of going back and forth, Art was not registered to vote.
This new found truth lead me to disengage Art from any political conversations. When he attempted to start one, I would remind him that his opinions don’t matter – that he doesn’t really have a voice because he doesn’t vote. In mid October, a week before the voter registration deadline, I received a text message from Art stating “Okay. I’ll register”. I had to do the honors. On October 19th around 11:45 p.m., I stopped by Art’s home after work and watched with pride as he signed his completed voter registration form.
The last one is from one of our volunteers who was phone banking several days before Election Day to remind voters to submit their vote-by-mail application on time. She attempted to reach a voter who had a voicemail greeting that stated, “We already voted. You don’t need to leave a message”. We all laughed, but deep down inside knew we were on the right path.
There is a story with every person the Hye Votes campaign registered to vote and helped get to the polls on Election Day. Each of these stories represent the hard work and dedication of the Hye Votes volunteers and our community’s commitment to being involved in the political decisions that affect their daily lives. And though the November 6th Elections are behind us now, the ANCA-WR and its Hye Votes team will continue to build on this strong foundation to ensure proper representation of our community in all aspects of the public affairs arena.