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A Nevada family navigates voting for the first time | KUNR

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By Natalie Van Hoozer, KUNR

This article was originally published by our media partner, Reno Public Radio/KUNR. Listen here.

Researching and completing one’s ballot can be a complex process during any election, but it’s a totally new experience for first-time voters, especially those with language barriers. Reporter Natalie Van Hoozer spoke with Kenia Ramírez, a new voter who helped her whole family cast ballots for the first time this year.

Natalie Van Hoozer: Kenia, tell me a little bit about yourself and your family.

Kenia Ramírez: I am a first-generation student. My parents didn’t go to middle school. We’re from Mexico, and they didn’t have the educational opportunity, so for me, [education] was something I knew was a must. Education has been highly valued in my family. 

This was the first time voting for my brother, my parents, [and me]. We live here in the Reno area. My dad works in construction, my mom works at a warehouse, and my brother is a student, so voting for us was a unique process, I would say. 

Van Hoozer: This election is the first time anyone in your immediate family is voting, what was your motivation for getting to the polls this year?

Ramírez: For my brother, he just turned 18, this was the first time he was eligible. For my dad, my mom and me, this was the first time we were eligible [because] you have to be a U.S. citizen. That wasn’t necessarily our case before. This was our first time to voice our opinion. For me, [it was also a chance] to voice my opinion for those who are not able to voice their opinions. 

Coming from an immigrant background, I do refer to those that are living in the shadows in our country, that are undocumented or “DACAmented” [under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] that aren’t able to express their own voices in the voting process. I think we know that [voting] is our civic duty, and we were going to make sure that we took part in it. 

Van Hoozer: What was the voter registration process like for you and your family?

Ramírez: Once I figured [out] that I could do it through our Washoe County [Registrar of Voters] and I found the link for registering, it was actually super easy. I think, for all of us, it  maybe took a total of ten minutes. I helped my parents fill out their registration. We all did it on our computer at home. It was pretty straightforward, which, for us, was like, “Oh, thank goodness.”

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Mail-in voting for the 2020 general election. Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

Van Hoozer: Your family chose to vote by mail. How did you go about figuring out how to fill out the ballot?

Ramírez: My parents always look up to me for problem solving. They know English, they can speak it, they can read it, it’s just that English [with legal jargon], like the ballot, even reading it as an English speaker, I was so confused. It was something completely new to me. It was just a matter of thoroughly walking through each step, rereading things three, four times. I also sought out some guidance from other family members or close friends who have voted before. 

My brother and I did seek out resources through social media, through online platforms that were through [Washoe] County. [Also] videos of things, so that we could understand [the process] in a way that we could relay back to our parents so we could make an informed decision. 

Van Hoozer: Did you go over topics on the ballot with your parents in Spanish or English?

Ramírez: Even though the ballots in our state are in essence bilingual, there’s just always a layer of jargon that sometimes can make it really confusing, in whatever language you speak. It was a sharing process, so when I was looking at [information], I would show them and explain it to them, but it would always be in Spanish. 

Van Hoozer: You worked with your brother to find a dropbox. What did it feel like when you submitted your ballot? 

Ramírez: I love commemorating special moments in my life and those of my family, so I did have to take a picture for us. It was just this, “Ah hah!” moment for us, like “We did it!”

This story was produced in partnership with Noticiero Móvil

Natalie Van Hoozer
Natalie Van Hoozer
Natalie is a freelance journalist and translator based in Reno, Nevada, who reports in English and Spanish. She also works for the nonprofit SembraMedia, supporting independent, digital Spanish-language media in the United States. Previously she was a Fulbright scholar in Argentina and worked on Latin American projects at the International Center for Journalists in Washington, D.C. She has taught university podcasting classes online and holds two bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and Spanish from the University of Nevada, Reno. For her undergraduate thesis, she researched the landscape of bilingual Spanish-English reporting in the state of California.Natalie es periodista y traductora freelance en Reno, Nevada y trabaja en español e inglés. También es embajadora para SembraMedia en Estados Unidos, donde investiga medios independientes y digitales en español en el país. Antes era becaria de Fulbright en la Argentina y trabajé como asistente de programas para el Centro Internacional para Periodistas, enfocada en los proyectos de América Latina. También ha sido profesora universitaria en línea sobre podcasting. Tiene una licenciatura de la Universidad de Nevada, Reno, en periodismo y español. Para la tesis de su licenciatura investigó el ámbito del periodismo bilingüe en inglés y español en el estado de California.

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