rab Americans are expected to vote in large numbers Tuesday, despite concerns over voter intimidation and weak outreach from the presidential candidates, representatives of major community organizations say.
The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has set up a voter protection unit staffed by lawyers to help dispel rumors that may have prevented some from going to the polls in the past.
"As always, there will be voter intimidation," predicted Abed Ayoub, one of five attorneys attached to the unit. Enthusiasm for the election is higher than it was in 2004, he contended, pointing to a recent ADC-sponsored event in Michigan that saw at least 500 Arab Americans register in just two days.
At the same time, the ADC has received hundreds of calls over recent months from Arab Americans who mistakenly believed they may have been ineligible to vote.
"One rumor was that if you are in foreclosure, you can't vote," Ayoub said. Another is the misconception that those who couldn't read or write in English -- often a problem for elderly Arab Americans -- would not be allowed to use translators.
But the greatest fear is of an incident like the one at the 1999 municipal election in Hamtramck, Michigan, where dozens of dark-skinned Arab Americans were asked to take a citizenship oath before voting. The move caused many to avoid the polls for fear of embarrassment.
Even in more recent elections, a number of complaints were made to ADC, though never made public, the lawyer said. "This year we want to attack the problem before it happens," Ayoub said.
Votes of the estimated 3.5 million Arab Americans could be pivotal, especially in swing states. And though a September poll by the Arab American Institute showed that Sen. Barack Obama was far more popular -- with a 54 percent to 33 percent lead over Sen. John McCain -- it also found that 20 percent of Arab Americans are not enrolled in any political party. And Arab organizations say both presidential campaigns have largely failed to recognize Arab Americans as an important voting bloc.
"Neither party has done a lot of outreach to the community," said Lelia Al-Qatami, ADC's communications and cultural affairs director. "Ethnic outreach is very common, but we haven't seen any with regards to the Arab community." [Link]
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