By Masood Rab, MMNS
Dr. Abdul Raheman Nakadar, publisher and founder of The Muslim Observer and Muslim Media Network, early this year issued an invitation to community activists in the Detroit Metropolitan Area for a meeting to discuss the Muslim Communityâ€™s activities for the approaching national elections.
He told the meeting attendees about the lack of scientific data regarding the issues that the Muslim Community considers critical for the forthcoming presidential elections. There is no Muslim organization in the US that has taken up the issue of providing political education to American Muslims on the issues near and dear to their hearts and the position of presidential candidates on these issues to enable American Muslim voters to rationally decide on the best use of their votes.
In the past elections, some organizations came up with their recommendations to vote for given candidates just before elections, without considering the relevancy of the primary elections in the process of recommending the candidates or relevant community issues. Some non-Muslim organizations also speak on behalf of the American Muslims and thus confuse a community struggling to start understanding the American political process.
The Muslim Observer (TMO) as a weekly reports on Muslim issues–local, national and global. With this background, TMO is eager to take on the big challenge of political education of American Muslims to understand and impact the political process for improving the status of Muslim community in America. TMO will provide the needed financing by requesting the community members to subscribe to the weekly TMO. An initial budget of $50 K is targeted to fund the studies, analyses and other related activities; however, a large effort for the AMPEC work will be volunteer based.
After due deliberations among a wide cross-section of ages and ethnicities of local American Muslim activists, it was decided to start the American Muslim Political Education Committee – AMPEC. A community survey was prepared by inputs of many community members for engaging the local Muslim Community to identify the major pressing issues the community is facing. A survey form is available on the Muslim Media Network website for TMO readers to provide their input.
AMPECâ€™s major objectives are:
1. Prepare a list of community issues through surveys.
2. Conduct research to educate the community on candidatesâ€™ positions on those issues.
3. Educate community on the political system and best ways to get involved.
4. Inform political candidates about the major community issues.
5. Prepare a voters guide for Election 2008.
TMO will be printing a weekly column that will be dedicated to the forthcoming elections, American Muslim Community issues, and positions of the candidates on these issues.
In this Issue:
Primary Elections and What is at Stake
The primary elections and caucuses are starting in a week–in them US voters will choose their preferred presidential nominees for the general election in 2008.
The state of Iowa traditionally kicks off the primary season with its presidential nominating caucuses, followed a week later by New Hampshireâ€™s primary elections. The primary contests continue over several months, with the winner for each party often apparent before many states have even voted. Each partyâ€™s nominee is then formally chosen at the partyâ€™s national convention at the end of the summer. That sets the general election campaign by each partyâ€™s candidate for a face off in November 2008.
Why are states shifting the primary calendar?
The scramble over the calendar is the result of a number of states seeking to move their dates forward in 2008 in order to increase their influence over the nominating process.
That in turn has put the traditionally early primary states under pressure to advance their contests to early January if they want to protect their status.
For example, the tiny state of New Hampshire with a population of 1.3 million is fiercely proud of its status as â€œfirst in the nationâ€ – and its state law requires that its primary be held at least a week before any other stateâ€™s.
Iowa, with a population of 3 million, similarly has a state law that it must be the first to hold any kind of voting procedure, is also very protective of its status.
The parties in the two states argue that voters there, because of their traditional early position, are much more politically educated than those in other states.
In practical terms, the early states have historically placed themselves in position of disproportionate clout in the nominating process and voters there receive far more face-time and often much more personal contact with candidates than the statesâ€™ size alone would warrant. That translates into greater focus on issues important to their voters–not to mention the economic windfall brought by extra TV advertising and frequent visits by candidates and the media.
What are the consequences of the scramble?
The process that is in place now places other states like Michigan with a population (according to the 2000 US census) of 10 million and with an industrial base of national importance almost no clout in the selection of presidential nominees.
Not to remain in this position, Michigan and Florida defied the express wishes of Howard Dean and the DNC and moved their primaries before the February 5 â€œSuper Tuesdayâ€ date, to jump the schedule and hold the primary in January.
This move has created an uproar in the political machinery and has sparked the threat of sanctions from the national party leadership.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) had set rules that allowed only Nevada and South Carolina to join New Hampshire and Iowa in the â€œwindowâ€ before February 5.
In a bid to restore discipline, the DNC has threatened to punish Michigan and Florida Democrats by stripping them of their delegates at the national convention. This would deny them a say on who should be the nominee, since delegates must be seated at the convention to vote.
The state party has responded by promising to bar all Michigan delegates to the national convention, and to file a lawsuit saying the move would cause the â€œwholesale disenfranchisementâ€ of the Democrats registered to vote in the state.
Meanwhile, in obedience to the DNCâ€™s forceful reaction, five major Democratic candidates pulled out of the Michigan primary race completely, and all 8 were forced by the DNC not to campaign in Michigan – leaving only Hillary Clinton as a major contender in the Michigan Democratic primary, and reducing Democratic Michiganâ€™s national clout to zero.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) has also threatened not to seat delegates from Michigan and other states which have broken party rules by scheduling their primary elections ahead of February 5. However, all nine Republican candidates are on the primary ballot in Michigan.
Caucus or primary – whatâ€™s the difference?
In Iowaâ€™s caucuses, voters meet in private homes, schools and other public buildings in more than 2,000 districts, or precincts, across the state to discuss the candidates and the issues.
They then elect delegates to the county conventions. County convention delegates elect delegates in turn to state conventions, where delegates to the national conventions are chosen.
At Iowaâ€™s Democratic caucuses, the voters publicly divide into groups, gathering in different corners of a room to show their support for the different candidates, and delegates are allocated accordingly.
Voters at the Iowaâ€™s Republican caucuses take part in a secret ballot, the results of which inform the allocation of delegates.
Other statesâ€™ caucus procedures may vary according to state law.
Primary elections in Michigan, allow all registered voters to vote for their preferred candidate either Democratic or Republican – irrespective of the party affiliation.
Next Week – Why We Should Vote in the Primary on January 15, and Our Strategy.