African immigrant citizens challenge GOP challengers, celebrate election day in Minneapolis


A translator at the Brian Coyle Center, in Minneapolis, has been accused of telling voters to cast a ballot for Senator Norm Coleman.

I arrived at this polling station where most of the voters are from the Somali community from the Riverside/Cedar area around noon, and immediately noticed clusters of people whispering amongst themselves.

I recognized Siad Ali, a volunteer for Senator Barack Obama’s campaign. He was worried that voters were being intimidated by Republican challengers who had charged into the polling station earlier in the morning. These Republican challengers were claiming that translators were telling voters who to cast their ballots for. Ali was confident that this was not the case.

Initially, according to Ali, there were three challengers, but only one was there by 1 p.m. He said, “All that these Somalis want to do is vote, and when they see people come in like this, they are afraid.”

Nimo Ali, a translator, explained her job, which she has volunteered for. “I read out candidates and the party that they are affiliated with,” she said. She says that some voters only know the presidential candidates names, while others just know the party that they want to vote for. Her job then is to point out these names on the ballot.

“One woman came to me, and asked me to show her where Al Franken’s name [Democrat candidate for the US Senate]. I did,” she continued. “Next thing I know she comes back and tells me that someone told her to vote for Norm Coleman.”

Another witness, who asked not to be named, was sure that Mahamoud Wardere, a campaigner for Senator Coleman’s office could have been the interpreter who was telling people to vote for Coleman. [For additional information on the translator, his employment by Coleman’s office, and his actions at the polling place, see Witnesses claim Somali polling place translator was telling people to vote for Coleman by Molly Priesmeyer in the Minnesota Independent.]

Wardere, on the hand, denied telling people how to vote, and said, “I only translated, just like the other translators.”

Excited Voters

“Obama ni mtoto wetu” (Obama is our child)! A group of women voters broke into song just outside the polling station at the Brian Coyle Center after casting their votes. They were oblivious to the tussles ensuing indoors. The three of them sat on a bench and chatted about the significance of the elections.

Madin Dula, whom I had interviewed a few weeks ago about her first election, was ecstatic. An Oromo immigrant who lived in Kenya, Dula still has relatives living in Northern Kenya. She woke up this morning to a phone call from her brother, who wanted to know if she had already cast her vote. It was only 6 a.m. and her polling station was not opened, but she assured her family that she would be one of the first ones on the lines. She lives in St. Paul, but was in the Riverside/Cedar area to make sure that all her friends and extended family made it to the polls. So it was that she sat with her friends and they were singing.

“Elections should be a joyous time,” they explained to me. “Even before the results are out, we should sing and praise the person we are putting in office.”

“Let me tell you,” Samsam Yusuf said, “this is a historical moment, for me and for my 12-year-old son who was born in this country.” Yusuf fled Somalia more than 16 years ago, and, like Madin, lived in Kenya. She has voted for the Democrats for as long as she has been in the United States. She says that this year has been different.

“I am very impressed with the Obama campaign. They covered everything … healthcare, education, tax breaks and the war.” Yusuf says that, until this election, she had never seen a campaign that worked to educate voters.

A few blocks away at a Starbucks parking lot, a group of East African men chatted about the elections while sipping on their free coffee. The conversation was lively, as the men were already imagining a future with Obama as president. Many of them insisted that his being black was just the icing on the cake.

Fuad Osman, whose 24-year-old son is a finance manager in Washington DC, believes that Obama’s financial plan will work best for working class people like him. Osman, who was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States 16 years ago, works with Teamsters Union Local 120.

Nekessa Opoti is the publisher of, a Kenyan online magazine and newspaper.