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US elections 2020: Muslims in state of Georgia mobilise for Senate runoff

As early voting begins, the contest will have implications on issues of Islamophobia, police reform and systemic racism across US
Georgia is home to more than 100,000 Muslim residents, and of that number, more than 71,000 are registered to vote.
Georgia is home to more than 100,000 Muslim residents, and of that number, more than 71,000 are registered to vote (AFP/File photo)

Ahead of the consequential US Senate race in Georgia next month, Muslim organisers and community members in the state are coming together to mobilise Muslims to vote for the upcoming election, which will decide which political party will have a majority in the Congress.

On Sunday, the Georgia Muslim Voter Project (GMVP) and the Council of American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) Georgia chapter hosted an online event on Muslim voter engagement in the state, bringing together elected officials and religious leaders to talk about the importance of the Senate race.

Early voting began for the election on Monday, where Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossof face Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.

'Participating in a democratic process allows our voice to be at that table, where we are not just going to be talked about, but we are a part of the conversation'

- Ilhan Omar, US congresswoman

While runoff races, a result of a first election in which no candidate received the necessary majority to secure victory, typically see lower voter turnout, this race has become a partisan battleground as both Democrats and Republicans seek to win the two seats in order to secure a majority in the legislature.

For Georgia's Muslims, CAIR-Georgia's executive director Abdullah Jaber said the race is also important for the issues of Islamophobia, healthcare, police reform and systemic racism - among many others.

"The world is looking at Georgia. In this runoff, Georgia Muslim voters not only have the power to select two senators but to move our nation in the right direction," Jaber told Middle East Eye.

"This is exactly why we are urging Georgia Muslim voters to come out in record-breaking numbers as they did in the general elections."

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said she was hoping to see the Muslim vote in the state increase to levels unseen before.

"I want to be able to say to folks, we did everything possible. I want to be able to look and say Mashallah (What God has willed) Georgia Muslims came out 20 percent higher," Tlaib said.

Georgia is home to more than 100,000 Muslim residents, and of that number, more than 71,000 are registered to vote.

And while that number is less than one percent of the state's overall population, the margin between the different candidates is teetering between one and less than one percent.

"Participating in a democratic process allows our voice to be at that table, where we are not just going to be talked about, but we are a part of the conversation," Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said.

Staff and volunteers of CAIR-Georgia and GMVP have already sent more than 100,000 texts and made more than 6,000 phone calls to Georgia Muslims in the lead-up to the general elections in November.

With Sunday's event kicking off, they plan to replicate that effort to ensure that registered Muslim voters are ready to vote and are educated on the issues.

Fierce battle

After failing to secure more than 50 percent of the vote in either of the two Senate elections for Georgia, a runoff election was triggered between the top two candidates for each race.

As it stands, Republicans have secured 50 Senate seats while Democrats only hold 46, plus two independents that caucus with them. If the Democratic party secures the two seats in the state, then the numbers will be even, giving Democratic Vice Presidential-elect Kamala Harris, who will serve as president of the Senate, the tie-breaking majority vote. 

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Because of this, the election has turned into a fierce partisan battle and has brought about attacks on opposing party officials.

Omar, a congresswoman for Minnesota, had been the victim of one of these attacks from Republican Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler.

"We saw the video of you smiling and laughing while talking about al-Qaeda & 9/11," she falsely said of the congresswoman. "You should be expelled from Congress."

Loeffler also attacked her opponent, Raphael Warnock, last month, accusing him of being "anti-Israel" when a video emerged showing that he criticised Israel for shooting and killing 58 Palestinian protesters in 2018.

Loeffler, an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump and his right-wing agenda, condemned Warnock over a letter that criticised Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

The Republican candidate has come under criticism herself for her association with now Congresswoman-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican who has expressed Islamophobic and racist views and promoted elements of the conspiracy theory QAnon.

Muslim voter mobilisation across US

Muslim-American voters this election cycle have been more involved than previous elections, with around one million Muslims having cast their ballots this year, according to CAIR.

While the Muslim vote may not have swung any state towards a certain candidate or party, examples of effective organising in states such as Michigan showed the power of the voting bloc.

This election cycle also showed the dangers of voter suppression.

'When you add your voice to other marginalised people, and we build that political and powerful voice, trust me, we will see an alleviation of suffering'

- Linda Sarsour, executive director of MPower Change

In October, Middle East Eye reported that members of the Muslim community in the city of Lackawanna in upstate New York were potentially subject to voter suppression after hundreds of absentee ballots belonging to people with Middle Eastern-sounding names were disqualified. 

Tlaib noted cases of suppression in her own state of Michigan, where sometimes members of the community would be stopped from voting due to discrepancies with their names.

Linda Sarsour, a Muslim-American activist and executive director of MPower Change, said the election in Georgia, and the state's Muslim vote, can potentially "alleviate harm and suffering on millions of immigrants in this country, particularly on the issue of immigration reform".

Still, Sarsour stressed the Muslim population's limited numbers in the country and the need to work with other groups in order to help solve their community's problems.

"There are only three to five million Muslims in America, you are not enough," she said.

"But when you add your voice to other marginalised people and we build that political and powerful voice, trust me, we will see an alleviation of suffering; we will see us gain back more rights; you will see us protect the rights that we already have."