Foreigners scrutinize elections Howard residents who can't vote still have opinions

November 02, 1992|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Thoko Mkwanazi -- an international customer relations specialist, recently married -- has never voted in her life.

She is a black South African, and apartheid bans her from casting a ballot in her native country. Here, not being a naturalized citizen bars her from voting.

She and thousands of other alien residents who make Howard County their home away from home will sit on the sidelines this year as the country votes in the 42nd presidential election. Still, she -- like others -- is keeping a close watch.

"There was too much mudslinging," she said. "I wasn't too impressed by it."

Too much mudslinging for too long, says Erik Andersen, a Danish native who works as a project manager in Columbia.

In Denmark, where a parliamentary government exists, the government can call elections any time -- and campaigning lasts only two months. In America, "it's too much money being raised for campaigns, in my opinion," he said.

Howard County has about 24,000 foreign-born residents, according to the Columbia-based Foreign-Born Information and Referral Service. The county's Asian population has grown by 254 percent in the past decade, according to the Census Bureau, and that number is expected to double again in the next eight years.

Likewise, the county's Hispanic population has surged by 149 percent and is expected to more than triple in the next eight years. Close to 10 percent of households speak a language other than English.

According to the 1990 census, Columbia is 76 percent white, 18 percent black, 4 percent Asian and 2 percent Hispanic. The county is second only to Montgomery in the number of foreign-owned businesses in Maryland.

The three presidential candidates "are people out of touch with the common man," said Mr. Andersen, who carries a green card. "They're always for the millionaires or the billionaires."

A Democrat by heart, Mr. Andersen says if he were to vote, he'd reserve judgment until Election Day.

Although he, too, is unable to vote, Nick Cheng's mind is made up: President Bush all the way.

"I think he's doing all right," said Mr. Cheng, owner of Sing Fy Oriental Market in Columbia. "I think it's not his fault for the economy. It was because of Reagan that the economy went bad."

As for Mr. Clinton, "everybody says he's lying," Mr. Cheng says. "I don't think he has good leadership. At least Bush was vice president for eight years and president for four years."

Like some native-born citizens, some naturalized citizens forgot

to register to vote. Vietnamese-American Yen Ta, who immigrated here in 1975, missed the deadline, but she'd re-elect President Bush if she could. "I believe he's better dealing with international government," she said. "He's better in the world front."

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