Expat Iraqis in Detroit Encounter Voting Snags
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Some Iraqis began voting before this election day. Among them, several million expatriates in 15 different countries. That includes as many as 300,000 here in the United States, though some complain about a shortage of polling places. Quinn Klinefelter reports from Detroit Public Radio.
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QUINN KLINEFELTER reporting:
Sporadic applause greets nearly every vote dropped into a ballot box at this converted ballroom serving as an Iraqi polling enter in Dearborn, Michigan. It's perhaps the largest of the roughly half dozen polling sites spread across the US. Iraqi Laith Kadeem(ph) says he drove here from upstate New York to vote after making a journey of similar length last year to vote for the provisional government. He says neither trip was fun.
Mr. LAITH KADEEM (Iraqi): It was freezing. My car broke on the highway. For a moment, there was a doubt in my mind what the heck I'm doing. When I reached the place, I found women, children, and they drove for 10, 12 hours. I said, `Hey, look at those people. Those kids give me the strength.'
KLINEFELTER: Iraqi officials say expatriates across the US complain that their pride in voting is tempered by frustration at trying to reach the polling sites. The topic has dominated Dearborn's Arabic language newspapers and television shows.
Unidentified Man: OK. (Foreign language spoken) Three, two, one...
KLINEFELTER: On the small Middle Eastern Broadcasting Network of America, based near Detroit, talk show guest and Shiite cleric Imam Hasham al-Husseini(ph) wonders why the location of several polling centers, including the Dearborn facility, was not made public until only days before voting was scheduled to begin.
Imam HASHAM AL-HUSSEINI (Shiite Cleric): I mean, how they expect the Iraqis to build up their baby democracy if they cannot even help us to find a location to vote? Come on, we cannot get out of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and to fall in the bureaucracy.
KLINEFELTER: In fact, Iraqi officials say they didn't decide whether to even hold out-of-country voting until September due to a lack of funding, though many expatriates scoff at the notion that their government was too broke to afford election staff. What followed was a massive recruiting drive for volunteers.
Mr. SALAM AL JAWAD (Independent Electoral Committee of Iraq): It's not easy to find people as fast as possible, train them and actually put them in place within, let's say, four weeks.
KLINEFELTER: Salam Al Jawad is a US spokesman for the Independent Electoral Committee of Iraq, which took charge of the out-of-country voting from a group hired last year by the United Nations. Al Jawad says it's been difficult to find locations for Iraqis to vote, because many landlords feared renting space for polling would make the building a terrorist target. The sites finally chosen for the polling centers, Al Jawad says, are the closest the fledgling Iraqi government could find to major populations of expatriates.
Mr. AL JAWAD: If you put it in the west, they want one in the east. If you put it in the north, they want one in the south and so on and so forth. Some people are not even willing to travel 10, 15 miles to vote. To satisfy everybody, it is an impossible mission, but I think that given the fact and given the circumstances, a lot of people are much happier this time than before.
KLINEFELTER: The `before' was last year during Iraq's historic first-ever democratic election. Much of the current process is modeled on that previous election, but there is one welcome change for expatriates in the US. Last year, they had to travel to a center to register, then return a week or two later to actually vote. This year, Iraqis can register and cast their ballot on the same day. For NPR News, I'm Quinn Klinefelter in Detroit.
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