UPDATE: Diversity forum focuses on increasing voter participation

Officials say voter turnout was disappointing among the immigrant community

BETHSEDA, Md. - Montgomery County’s diversity has always been a major positive, but local leaders said that strength hasn't produced enough in terms of voter participation. 

Now, Do The Most Good, a group for immigrant's rights, said they see the potential for a strong political voice in Montgomery County’s newly naturalized community.

"The big challenge that we have is actually getting people to vote,” said Hamza Khan, Do The Most Good advocate. “Registration isn't a big challenge. Immigrants who are already American citizens are pretty much registered to vote. The challenge is to get them to the polls to do their democratic duty."

That's where Khan and his fellow advocates run into some unique cultural obstacles.

"Even if they vote, a lot of people are coming from societies where being involved in politics gets you killed,” said Khan. “My own grandfather was jailed in Pakistan for many years for being a democratic activist. That really plays into what is going on."

That makes education and encouragement key factors in getting out the vote.

Deborah Tshiovo works with the African Women’s Club, processing new arrivals and allowing them to have their voices heard at the polls.

"They like to hear testimonies from other people who were helped by AWC, and that gives some motivation to actually come to us,” said Tshiovo.

But even then it can be difficult to motivate new voters when they see nothing in common with any of the available candidates.

According to Chinese American Gaithersburg Council member Robert Wu, that lack of diversity within the candidate pool can itself be discouraging to new voters.

"When you come from a diverse background, you bring that background with you up to the state house or wherever you are going,” said Wu. “Those experiences help to inform your vote, and it makes you I think a better elected official."

Montgomery County is home to three of the top ten most diverse cities in America and has an estimated 100,000 Muslim residents, according to Do The Most Good.

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