WASHINGTON - More than one million American Muslims have registered to vote in the November 8 U.S. elections, a record number that puts the community in a position to tip the race in states where they live in large numbers as polls show a tightening contest, Muslim advocates said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, an umbrella group of two dozen Muslim advocacy organizations, said its yearlong “One Million Voters” campaign had surpassed its target, more than doubling the number of registered Muslim voters in America since the 2012 presidential election.
“We believe we’ve exceeded the one million mark,” said Oussama Jammal, secretary general of the group. “We’ve been mobilizing the community with voter registrations at mosques, schools and community events. That’s how we were able to make a difference this year."
A survey conducted by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based advocacy organization, showed that 86 percent of registered Muslim American voters planned to vote this year. Jammal said there are indications of more early voting by Muslims this year than in previous elections.
Mobilized by Trump 'Muslim ban'
The one million voter drive was launched last December after Republican candidate Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration, sending shivers across the mostly immigrant Muslim community.
The Arab and South Asian immigrants that make up the majority of the Muslim American community have historically voted in relatively small numbers and rarely as a single voting block. However, Muslim advocates say, Trump's vitriol, as it is seen by many of them, has propelled the community into action.
“I usually don't thank the candidates but I'd like to thank Trump for energizing the Muslim community in an unprecedented fashion,” said CAIR executive director Nihad Awad. “The Muslim community feels the heat and the brunt of the propaganda, but also understands it’s important for them to vote.”
There are some 3.3 million Muslims living in America, representing roughly one percent of the U.S. population, according to Pew Research. About 1.5 million Muslims are eligible to vote.
To get more Muslims to vote, Muslim groups set up registration booths at more than 2,500 mosques, 500 schools and a multitude of community centers throughout the year, giving the effort a big push in September by marking the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha with a special voter registration drive.
“Imams have been instructed to give sermons about the importance of voting and participation in the public life," Jammal said in an interview with VOA.
Muslim Americans once leaned Republican, voting overwhelmingly for George W. Bush in the 2000 election and leading to Muslim claims that their ballots in Florida helped the Republican seal his victory.
Shift in views
But the minority group has since drifted to the Democratic Party, spurred by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, a rise in Islamophobia and policies many Muslims associate with the Republican Party.
The October CAIR survey showed that 72 percent of registered Muslim voters planned to vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, while only 4 percent said they would cast their ballots for Trump.
Though the One Million Voters campaign had a national focus, organizers said they strategically targeted key swing states with large Muslim populations where their vote could prove decisive.
But just how much the Muslim vote will count remains uncertain. Large numbers of Muslims live in the so-called “blue” or predominantly Democratic states – California, New York and New Jersey – where Clinton is ahead by double-digits in most polls.
However, there are also relatively large Muslim communities in several key battleground states - Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia - where polls show a tightening race. But even there, the number of Muslim voters is miniscule relative to the general electorate.
Going by traditionally Muslim sounding names, CAIR estimates there are 15,000 registered Muslim voters in Pennsylvania, 25,000 in Florida and 27,000 in Michigan, though an official cautions the actual numbers may be much higher.
Muslim Floridians may represent a fraction of the state electorate but given that the 2000 presidential election outcome was decided by a mere 537 votes in the state, "it is highly likely that Muslims can repeat the  Florida scenario, especially now that they understand the future is important for them," Jammal said.