Effort Aims To Push Muslims To the Polls

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 29, 2006

National Muslim civic leaders announced a new push yesterday to get the country's estimated 2.2 million registered Muslim voters to the polls, unveiling a Web site that spells out key races of "Muslim interest" and ATM-like voter registration machines that will be put in mosques and Islamic student centers.

The campaign by the Washington-based Muslim American Society is a continuation of an effort that has been underway since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to increase American Muslims' involvement in the political process. A 2005 survey by the Muslim American Political Action Committee said 84 percent of registered Muslims voted in the November 2004 election, compared with 41 percent in 2000.

The efforts are getting more tailored, Muslim leaders said in announcing the creation of the society's Center for Electoral Empowerment. The center's main feature is a Web site that offers details on issues that the political action committee says are the most important to Muslim voters: concerns about "the erosion of civil liberties," "fair" immigration reform and foreign policy, said Mukit Hossain, president of MAPAC.

The site, http://www.masvip.org/ , highlights 30 races in 11 states where there are significant Muslim populations, including Illinois, New Jersey, California and Texas.

The focus on Muslim voting -- both by Muslim American leaders and political candidates -- rose again after the 2004 election, when the Muslim vote moved significantly away from the Republican Party.

According to a September 2004 poll conducted by Zogby International for Georgetown University's Project MAPS, 76 percent of Muslims backed the Kerry-Edwards ticket, compared with 7 percent for Bush-Cheney. This was a significant change from 2000, when President Bush received 42 percent of the Muslim vote compared with Al Gore's 31 percent.

In one example of increased candidate interest in the Muslim vote, the annual Virginia Muslim Civic Picnic, held in August for Virginia candidates and sponsored by the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee, attracted 37 candidates last year, compared with two in 2001.

Estimates vary widely of the number of Muslims in the United States, from 3 million to 7 million, and polls of U.S. Muslim political behavior also show discrepancies.

However, polls and anecdotal research from civic leaders agree that Muslims have become much more involved in elections, not just in philanthropy and other civic work.

Now, Muslim leaders said yesterday, many Muslim Americans don't like the consequences of not participating, said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society's civic training arm, the Freedom Foundation.

"Now I have a double whammy: I have to worry about driving while black and flying while Muslim," Bray said. "I say to Muslims -- take your souls to the polls."

The MAPAC's 2005 survey found that the largest segment of registered Muslim American voters, by age, is people between the ages of 25 and 34; 25 percent of all voters were in this age category. Women in that age group were the largest single segment of Muslim American voters.

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