Rekha Koirala is a first-time voter. She was born in Bhutan and grew up in a refugee camp in Nepal. She came the the US in 2008 and became a citizen as soon as she was eligible in 2013.
“I grew up not belonging to anywhere,” she says on the phone from Portland. “I was kicked out of my own country.”
For her, the process of becoming a citizen and registering to vote was relatively simple. She remembers the volunteers who helped her fill out a registration card after she took her oath of citizenship — and that was that. Come November, like everyone else in Oregon, she will mail in her ballot.
Studies show that naturalized citizens vote at lower rates than native-born citizens. A 2012 University of Southern California study (PDF), however, points out that this discrepancy is rooted at the registration level. That is to say, when you compare naturalized and native-born citizens who are registered to vote, participation levels are roughly equal.
So for advocates and those who want to empower new Americans in the political system, registering new Americans like Koirala is particularly important.