His mission: make new citizens votersby Toni Randolph, Minnesota Public Radio
Thousands of people across the country become U.S. citizens every week. And with that new citizenship, they also gain the right to vote. In Minnesota, one man has made it his mission to make sure new citizens are ready to exercise that right.
St. Paul, Minn. — Ron Mazurowski attends nearly every swearing-in ceremony in Minnesota for new citizens, including some this week at Bethel University in Arden Hills. More than 1,000 people became new U.S. citizens at the sessions.
Mazurowski is a slightly balding middle-aged man who teaches citizenship classes at the Minnesota Literacy Council.
At this week's ceremonies, he scoped out the people standing in the long line that snaked through the lobby of Bethel's Benson Great Hall and he spotted one of his former students who was ready to take the oath.
He asked her if she's going to register to vote. She said "yes."
For the last decade Mazurowski has been helping new citizens register to vote. He says it started with some of his students. They told him that one of the main reasons they wanted to become citizens was so they could vote. So Mazurowski thought maybe they could register at the naturalization ceremony.
"I had to call people here at Bethel to make sure if was OK with them," he says. "I had to call the courts to make sure it was OK with them. I had to talk to INS to make sure was OK with them."
But Mazurowski says even after he got all the OK's, he couldn't do it alone. So he enlisted the help of the League of Women Voters.
Judy Stuthman, co-president of the Minnesota chapter of the League of Women Voters, also attends nearly every naturalization ceremony.
Before the judge arrives for the swearing in, Stuthman stands on the podium at the front of the auditorium and says a few helpful words to the soon-to-be citizens about filling out the voter registration cards.
"We'll help you fill it out by giving line-by-line instructions," she says. "If you make a mistake, we have extra cards. If you need a pen, we have plenty of those also."
After she gives the instructions, Stuthman goes into the audience to look over the cards and answer any questions.
For Koblan Christian Douah, a new U.S. citizen originally from Ivory Coast, the on-site registration was ideal, since he had been planning to leave the ceremony and go directly to the DMV so he could register to vote.
"I do understand the importance of participating in the electoral process," he says. "So many people take it for granted, and I do not. So I definitely pay attention to the political process in the country and I'm definitely eager to make my contribution."
As the new citizens make their way out of the auditorium, Ron Mazurowski is waiting to take their voter registration cards so he can take them to the Secretary of State's office later in the day.
The new citizens greet their families and friends after the ceremony. Esther Garubanda is there to watch her father become a citizen and she sees friends who have done the same. She congratulates them and encourages them to exercise the rights of citizenship.
"Now you can vote. You've got to vote. You've got to vote," she says.
Garubanda is from Uganda and she's on track to become a citizen. And she's already looking forward to registering to vote.
"When I become a citizen, that's the first thing I'm going to do," she says.
This week, 845 of the more than 1,124 people in Minnesota who became citizens turned in their voter registration cards. They'll be able to vote in November.
- All Things Considered, 07/18/2008, 4:49 p.m.