CLEVELAND, Ohio — With the 2020 presidential election less than a month away, a demographic of Ohio voters could emerge as a critical group in helping to decide the election.

Recently naturalized citizens, new Americans who naturalized since 2014, are a sizable group in Ohio. The National Partnership for New Americans released a national report in June called “The Power of Newly Naturalized Citizens in the 2020 Elections,” and Global Cleveland, The Refugee Response and AsiaTown Cleveland partnered to help announce NPNA’s Ohio data Thursday.

According to the report, Ohio had 54,818 people become naturalized from 2014-2018. That number is estimated to be over 62,000 through 2020. With the state having more than 267,000 naturalized citizens, just under a quarter of them are newly naturalized.

Diego Iniguez-Lopez, the policy and campaigns manager at NPNA, said some immigrant and refugee populations might be ignored or not engaged with enough by candidates since those populations don’t usually have high turnout.

30 people take their Oath of Allegiance before becoming U.S. Citizens at Cleveland History Center.

But with this year’s election, one of the most important in recent memory, the urge to fulfill their civic duty is present among new Americans.

“We’re seeing a lot of grassroots organizations, we’re seeing community members themselves, we’re seeing through social media that people are not only bringing up the mail-in options and absentee ballots,” Iniguez-Lopez said. “But they’re doing that in creative, multi-linguistic ways because all communities are starting to understand why it’s so critical to vote, to go out or to send in their ballot this year.”

AsiaTown Cleveland, part of MidTown Cleveland, is an organization that has helped with voter registration and census registration. The organization does biweekly food distribution at different restaurants in AsiaTown, and during those distributions, the group provided voter registration and census registration.

On Monday, the last day to register to vote, an AsiaTown Cleveland staffer heard about an immigrant whose parents wanted to register to vote. AsiaTown helped the parents submit their registration to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections before the deadline.

“It was amazing effort on behalf of these folks who were really excited to vote, as well as our staff who were hustling to get it in,” said Joyce Huang, MidTown Cleveland’s vice president of community development. “I think there is a new enthusiasm around voting, especially this election, very important. It’s just exciting to see that.”

According to NPNA’s Ohio report, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up 40% of newly naturalized citizens in the state from 2014-2018. African immigrants make up 22%; Europeans consist of 15%; Latin Americans represent 11%; Middle Eastern and North African immigrants make up 10%; People from the Caribbean make up 2%.

Bhutan, India, China, Somalia and Mexico were the top five countries of origin, respectively, for new naturalized citizens from 2014-2018. The state of Ohio ranked ninth among all states for most naturalized citizens who are African immigrants. Texas ranks first with 25,907 people.

Huang said neither local nor national candidates had made significant engagement with Asian-American voters. She said it would be essential to show people in the AsiaTown neighborhood that their vote matters.

“We’re going to push really hard to make it known that your voice does count, and the candidates that are elected will impact your wellbeing based on the policies that they select and choose,” Huang said.

Patrick Kearns, the executive director of The Refugee Response, spoke about how many refugees his organization works with are escaping authoritarian regimes and persecution. Once refugees become naturalized, they can use their voices, something they haven’t been able to do before.

“So it’s a great opportunity for them to be part of this society, and they are,” Kearns said. “And to have the understanding that they also have the same voice as anybody else in America as part of their vote, not just nationally but also locally.”

As a child of an immigrant, Global Cleveland President Joe Cimperman saw how seriously his mom took voting and participating in democracy.

Cimperman said his mother would tell him in the former Yugoslavia that everyone would vote, even in a communist regime; people would get in trouble if they didn’t. Cimperman has seen people often register to vote following their naturalization ceremonies, showing their dedication to participating in America’s democracy.

“But the newcomer community in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio, they get it,” Cimperman said.