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Estimated 600 Voters Registered by LAOE

ELGIN, Ill.—The results of the 2012 election will impact the lives of millions over the next four years. For the Lao community of Elgin, the election’s impact has already been felt. Lao American Organization of Elgin (LAOE) embarked on a mission to strengthen the voices of Lao American citizens locally through its Civic Engagement Program.

“The goal of the Civic Engagement Program is to engage our community with public officials, and vice versa,” explained LAOE Board Member and Civic Engagement Program Director, Chin Keomuongchanh. “We want to introduce our community to government, and government to our community, in order for us to work mutually to advance and grow our community. Another goal of the program is to encourage and educate Lao people about the importance of voting and exercising their voting rights.”

To achieve these goals, LAOE met in January to develop a strategic plan that culminated on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2012. The measure of success was exceptional voter registration count. The goal was 200 registered voters in the Elgin area, and LAOE surpassed that amount on Election Day with an estimated over 600 voters registered.

LAOE kicked off the Civic Engagement Program with two sponsored trips to Springfield, Ill., to visit the state capital and meet with legislators. For the majority of the participants, it was their first time in the capital and their first exposure to the U.S. government process. On their second trip to Springfield on May 8, LAOE was able to bring community members to be part of the historic rally for the creation of the first Asian American Caucus in Illinois. There were an estimated 300 Asian-Americans, all of whom represented diverse ethnic Asian groups. LAOE was the largest individual ethnic group represented. The trips to Springfield gave the community great exposure to government and would build the momentum for and the creation of a LAO Issues platform that would serve the community and be the cornerstone for future civic engagement.

With the momentum building from the Springfield trips, LAOE continued to speak to the community at all sponsored LAOE events and other community events. LAOE organized a Lao Leadership Summit, bringing together about 20 leaders from various Lao organizations and affiliations. The goal of the summit was to introduce the leaders to the significance of the Civic Engagement Program and, ultimately, get their support and participation on delivering the message to the community the importance of registering to vote.

Shortly after the Lao Leadership Summit, LAOE began a roadshow to present to groups and register people to vote. The roadshows created buzz to close out the voter registration process.

Following the completion of the voter registration process, LAOE organized town hall meetings with local candidates. Through the process, the Lao community had the opportunity to meet and hear from Joe Walsh, Tammy Duckworth, Michael Noland, Cary Collins, Keith Farnham, John Walters, John Dalton, Mike Kenyon, Jerry Myers, Rob Russell, Tom Hartwell, Henoch Fuentes, Brenda Rogers, Doug Scheflow, Mayor Kaptain and many other politicians running for office.

As Election Day approached, LAOE coordinated an early-voting campaign, providing translation help at the polls and transportation to the polls. Efforts to reach out to over 600 registered voters were conducted through phone banking. On Nov. 3, LAOE held an LAO Early Voter Rally at the Wat Samaggi on Route 19 in Elgin. LAOE assisted in turning out an estimated 160 early voters. This was an achievement for LAOE and accentuated the hard work the board members and volunteers put forth during the Civic Engagement Program.

Many of the community members were very excited to be a part of this historic drive. For many, it was their first time ever voting. The mood of the community was great, knowing that this event will lead to greater civic engagement with local government that can possibly lead to more resources that will help the community advance and grow.

“Your leadership was a direct result of big turnout from our community. Thank you, LAOE.” said Thomas Chanthabandith of Elgin.

“This is my first time voting. I’ve wanted to vote, but didn’t know how. There are so many like me. Thanks, LAOE for your leadership.” said Khamsay Sengvilay of Elgin.

“We are so very proud of the efforts of our community to come together, work together, and VOTE together. In the beginning we didn’t know what to expect on the early voting count. We were more focused on the voter registration goal of 200. Today we witnessed an historic event in the Lao American community. We not only engaged our community, we EMPOWERED them. Turning out 160 early votes is strong message to our local government that we would like to be active in shaping a better future for all citizens of Elgin,” expressed LAOE Board Member, Alan Thavisouk.

LAOE awaits the final release of voter demographic count from the IL Board of Elections. The report is expected to be released in January. From its own tracking report, there are an estimated 600 Lao Americans that registered to vote according to the VAN system, an online system that tracks registered voters.

Jay Rasavongxay, Chairman of LAOE, summed up the sentiment of the Lao American community: “I would like to thank all the board members, volunteers, politicians, the Asian American Institute of Chicago and the most important, the people of our community who united to achieve our goals. What we achieved through the Civic Engagement Program will help us in working on creating more jobs for Lao people in Elgin, help our youth go to college, provide assistance and healthcare programs for our seniors. We are very proud and we will continue to serve our very best.”