Are you registered to vote?” Fariha Quasem inquires as hundreds of worshippers walk out from the first jummah at the Muslim Community Center (MCC) and others walk in to attend the 2 p.m. sermon.
It is Election Year in Maryland and in preparation the Council of American Islamic Relations Maryland Office (CAIR-MD) is holding voter registration drives around the state. A table is set up outside near the masjid and multipurpose hall, located on New Hampshire Avenue in Montgomery County, on a sunny, spring Friday, but its too windy for any signage.
Quasem is a Marylander, raised in the halls of MCC; she attended local Wheaton High School, and the University of Maryland for undergraduate and law school. After working at the House of Ruth, a Domestic Violence Legal Clinic, she is now the CAIR-MD Liaison for Governmental Affairs. Most people recognize her and her big smile as she mans the CAIR table.
Her father and sister stop by to check in on her. She sends them off to encourage people to come register.
Maya Kaikai hands in his registration form. He is looking at the issues and will not vote on a party basis. “I want empowerment of the community and the people in the community,” he says. A well-educated project manager with an MBA, he has been looking for work for the past year.
“I can’t even find a job that pays $10 an hour,” he says as he shakes his head. He migrated to the country for opportunities, but feels like the country has become a ‘connectory’— its all about who you know.
Quasem says that most people at MCC are registered to vote as she helps the few unregistered masjid-goers fill out their registration forms.
Guled Kassim walks by. He is running for the Montgomery County Council, as the Democratic Candidate from District 3. He is a MCC regular and plans to drop off campaign material after he prays.
“We are civically engaged community,” Quasem admits as person after person tell her that they are already registered. “Many of those who are not registered are those who cannot vote because of their immigration status.” MCC frequently has elected officials visit the center throughout the year.
Some people do not think that their vote does not count and she believes that this rhetoric needs to change, as it discourages people from exercising their constitutional rights.
Access to local politicians is a concern for Tahir*, who says many politicians come and make promises, but once they are elected they forget about us. He always goes to vote, often voting for a third party candidate.
“Remember to vote in June,” Quasem calls out to familiar faces. The Democratic primary in Maryland is on June 24, 2014. Early Voting for the Primary Election is set for Thursday, June 12, 2014 through Thursday, June 19, 2014 from 10 am until 8 pm.
“People are opinionated about politics and a lot of people come out to vote,” says Quasem, as several people stop by to ask questions and walk away with brochures and forms for friends and family. She hopes to come out on a Sunday morning when many young professionals bring their children to Sunday school to registered that demographic.
The next drive is scheduled on Friday May 9, 2014 at the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg, MD. Drives are also scheduled at Dar us Salam, and the Islamic Society of Baltimore.
The state administrator and local boards of elections in Maryland offer training for “voter registration volunteers” or “Voter Registration Application Distributors”. After completing the training, the volunteers receive a Certificate of Instruction and can conduct voter registration.
Masajid, Islamic Centers and community centers can request voter registration drives by emailing CAIR-MD at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Name changed for privacy