June 30, 2016 Opportunity

Voting for the First Time as an American Citizen

For those who became American citizens within the last four years, November marks the first time they'll vote in a U.S. presidential election. Three Starbucks partners (employees) who recently pledged their oath of allegiance to the United States share their journey to the country and thoughts about voting.

The Importance of Voting

In 2001, Cliff Burrows began his Starbucks journey as managing director in the UK. Seven years later, he left Europe with his family and moved to Seattle for a new role with the company.

Earlier this month, Burrows – now Starbucks group president for the U.S. and Americas – became an American citizen after nearly a decade of working in the U.S.

“It was time to put down some roots and unpack the last of the boxes we brought with us from Europe,” he said. “My two daughters have spent all of their school days here. Seattle is now home.”

With the presidential election rapidly approaching, Burrows is prepared to cast his first vote in America.

“Timing is everything,” he said. “This is an important election and I know the significance of my vote.”

Burrows is hopeful that all citizens will exercise their right to vote in November and beyond.

“With what is happening in the U.S. and in other countries around the world today, there is no more important time than right now to support your hopes for the future direction of our country,” he said. “We need to exercise our responsibility as citizens, ensure our voices are heard and vote.”

Casting a Presidential Ballot

Alicia Vermaele was enrolled as a student at Boston’s Berklee School of Music during the 2004 presidential campaign. She was working on an advanced degree at Columbia University in New York for the ’08 election. Four years later, she was employed at the Clinton Global Initiative, working in a position that put her in contact with a former president and one of this year’s presumptive nominees.

Vermaele, however, didn’t vote in any of those elections. The 2016 campaign is the first she’s experiencing as an American citizen and she’ll be casting her first presidential ballot in November.

“It’s an honor and a responsibility to vote,” said Vermaele, senior manager, Community Investments at Starbucks. “There are so few things in the world that we have control over and voting is one of them. It allows each of us to contribute to a broader voice in this country.”

Born in Belgium and raised there and in Spain, Vermaele has lived in the United States for 15 years. She became a U.S. citizen at a ceremony in Tukwila, Washington, earlier this year. 

“I had been considering becoming an American citizen for a while,” she said. “I look at citizenship as a privilege and with that privilege comes a great responsibility to give back to the community and exercise my right to vote." 

Giving Voice to an Opinion

An au pair exchange program brought Ewelina Szafirska from Poland to the United States for the first time in 1998. For one year, she was the caretaker for three children and attended school to receive her certification for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. After returning home, she studied education and journalism at the University of Silesia, but yearned for the experience she had in America.

“During my time in the U.S., I got to know and love the culture,” said Szafirska. “I met a lot of great people and developed amazing friendships as well.”

In the fall of 1999, Szafirska returned to the United States. Most important to her was finishing school, so she obtained a student visa and enrolled in a local community college. To help pay for expenses, she applied for a job at Starbucks and began work as a barista in December 2000.

For the next 13 years, Szafirska settled into her new life in America, finished school and advanced to a district manager position at Starbucks. She became a U.S. citizen in March 2013.

“Obtaining my citizenship was very emotional for me,” she said. “It took a lot of hard work and sacrifice for me to get to that moment.”

In November, Szafirska will cast her first vote in the U.S., with her father’s words echoing in her ear.

“My dad used to tell me if you don’t vote, then you can’t complain,” she said. “It’s my obligation and duty as a citizen to vote. We live in a country where everyone has an opinion and we can speak it by voting.

Voter Registration Made Easy

With a long history of encouraging civic engagement, Starbucks joined the TurboVote Challenge - an initiative that aims to increase voter participation using a digital tool that helps users register to vote, update their registration, request an absentee ballot or get election date reminders. The goal of the TurboVote Challenge is to achieve 80 percent voter participation by the year 2020.

Starbucks and a dozen influential companies have signed on to the TurboVote Challenge encouraging voter registration, volunteering and civic discussions. Starbucks has also made TurboVote technology accessible to all partners (employees) in the U.S., to make it easier for them to register, stay informed about upcoming elections and vote. 


Among the companies participating in the TurboVote Challenge: airbnb, Arizona State University, Fusion, Lyft, Mic.com, The Skimm, Spotify, Starbucks, Target, Univision, Video Game Voters Network, Westfield, We Work. 

For more information on this story, contact the Starbucks Newsroom