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Election Jitters

A first-time voter can't wait to cast her ballot.

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Despite her considerable time and involvement here, it's only recently that she's felt at home. Last year Fazaldin, who grew up amid socialism, became a U.S. citizen. And now, as a proud registered voter, she'll exercise her right to choose her leaders for the first time in her life.

"I'm so excited," she says, almost breathlessly. "I'm a little nervous, which button I have to do. I have not seen it," she says of a voting booth.

Fazaldin represents the surge of voter registration that has occurred in recent months. It's why Richmond General Registrar J. Kirk Showalter predicts possibly unprecedented turnout Nov. 2. While there is no way to track locally the number of first-time voters in the upcoming election, Showalter says, she has plenty of evidence of the swell. From Sept. 1 to Oct. 11 her office had a net increase of 7,000 registered voters. In the city of Richmond the number jumped from 97,000 to 104,000.

Fazaldin is not surprised. "This is history," she says of the election — for her personally as well as for the city with its mayoral race and for the country with the presidential contest. Consequently, she takes her responsibility as a voter seriously. For months Fazaldin has studied local, state and national candidates and where they stand on issues important to her. She has collected literature and attended forums and debates. When she can, she's asked questions of incumbents such as her city councilman, William J. Pantele, and her U.S. representative, congressman Bobby Scott (D-3rd District). And with less than a week to go, she has made up her mind.

Her yard is testament. Political placards blanket it.

"I refuse to tell myself I am Republican or Democrat," she says, though a Kerry sign would make a passerby presume the latter. "If John McCain would have run for president I may have voted for him," she says.

Instead she'll vote for those who seem to uphold her philosophies and ideals. She's concerned about the way other nations perceive the United States and is against the war in Iraq. She recalls with emotion when her country was invaded in 1978 by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and few stepped in to help. She was upset recently when she called her online service and recognized the accent on the other end of the phone. It turns out the worker was living in India. And while Fazaldin herself has lived in Bombay and sympathizes with its poverty, she's against the exporting of American jobs. She supports a congressman who understands a woman's right to choose and a city councilman who opposes a stadium in Shockoe Bottom.

Ultimately, she doesn't take anything about democracy for granted. "I've learned that change is required when there's a problem," she says.

There was a time when she was young, when she didn't think the opportunity for change existed. She was the next to the youngest of six. Her father was in the construction business; her mother never was allowed an education.

Today, Fazaldin is one of only a handful of women contractors and real-estate developers in the city. She's earned a masters degree in sociology from Virginia Commonwealth University. But those accomplishments, to her parents in Tanzania, she says, are "not as important as my role in the community."

On Election Day Fazaldin will don that role — as first-time voter and U.S. citizen — like a banner.

She'll start the day by arriving at her 2nd-District precinct, Carver Elementary School, around 5:30 in the morning, even though the polls don't open until 7, to be first in line and greet her fellow voters. She'll wear an outfit made especially for the occasion, along with a silk scarf emblazoned with stars and stripes.

In the months leading up to Election Day, she's encouraged at least nine people to register to vote. One is her business partner, Lonnie Shiflett. He is 42, she says, and a native Richmonder. For days, she kept inquiring, "Did you get your voter registration card?" At last he answered yes. And with polite enthusiasm Fazaldin recalls telling him, "Now City Council will take you seriously." S



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