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Pumping Up Muslim Voter Turnout

New America Media, News Report, Hazem Kira Posted: Oct 30, 2008

Editor's note: The American Muslim Taskforce is spearheading a national voter turnout effort among American Muslims in 14 states. Organizers believe that with nearly 5 million eligible voters, U.S. Muslims may have considerable clout at the polls in key states. Hazem Kira is a freelance reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

SAN FRANCISCO--American Muslims are feverishly working for the largest-ever Muslim voter turnout on Nov. 4, with a particular focus on battleground states.

Muslim civic organizations have worked in coalition to generate dozens of rallies, town hall meetings and neighborhood get-togethers, all geared toward voter mobilization.

"Our goal is to maximize Muslim voter turnout, support candidates who support civil liberties, world peace, universal healthcare, better education, a fair immigration policy and social justice," says Dr. Agha Saeed, national chair of the American Muslim Taskforce. "But even if better candidates were to win on Nov. 4, it will take a long and determined effort to help restore America's promise, ideals and principles."

The American Muslim Taskforce, the largest Muslim umbrella organization in the country, is spearheading the effort to maximize voter turnout at the polls. The AMT has designated Friday, Oct. 31 National Muslim Voter Education Day and Nov. 1 and 2 National Voter Mobilization Weekend. Member organizations of the taskforce include the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Muslim American Society (MAS).

On Friday, community activists and leaders will be encouraged to focus on educating their respective communities on the issues and candidates. According to one representative, Friday was chosen as the National Voter Education Day because it is the day Muslims gather at their local community centers.

"Our unity of purpose and number of our votes are the greatest sources of self-empowerment," says Saeed. "As long as we can vote we can make a difference."

Of a total population of more than 7 million Muslims, an estimated 4.9 million are eligible voters. With sizable populations in swing states, American Muslims could be an important factor.

"Even the most bigoted politician knows how to count," Saeed says. "When the chips are down, they start approaching previously maligned and banished communities."

Working in coalition with a number of local groups, the AMT is aiming for a 90 percent Muslim voter turnout. Its strategy includes placing full-page ads in newspapers and airing 60-second ads on television.

The AMT has a "14 state strategy" premised on the uneven distribution of electoral college votes in more populous states, including Florida, New Jersey, Michigan and Ohio, which are also battleground states for the presidential candidates.

State coordinators have been hired in these battleground states to galvanize local Muslim voters to achieve a higher than average Muslim voter turnout. Efforts are taking root in Virginia, Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Missouri, says national coordinator Salim Akhtar. Akhtar says the taskforce hopes to spark a similar mobiliation in California, Texas and Oregon.

"The AMT campaign has energized the Muslim community," he says. "More people have registered to vote, know the candidates and issues, and many more than we originally expected are taking part in early voting."

While the voter mobilization effort is nonpartisan, a scorecard on issues of importance to Muslim Americans released by AMT's political action committee constitutes what many believe to be an indirect endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

The scorecard compiles previous ratings of both Obama and Republican candidate Sen. John McCain on 12 issues of relevance to the AMT constituency, ranging from education to civil liberties to national security. It uses research on the candidates' voting records compiled by organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the League of Conservation Voters and the National Education Association (NEA). McCain received a combined total of 291 points; Obama received 984 points.

But for the AMT, Muslim Americans will be the real winners if they turn out in significant numbersno matter who the new president will be.

"I believe this is a historic moment for both Muslims and all Americans, says Akhtar. "I am doing this so my children can grow up in a world where they matter, have a voice and do not end up as second-class citizens."

Information about the issues scorecard produced by the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections can be found on AMT-PAC's website, www.amt-pac.net.

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