While many Americans will not be voting in an election for another four years, some are gearing up for one only two weeks away.
LSA sophomore Noor Al-Bassam will be voting in the upcoming Iraqi election, although she lives in the United States.
What was once considered a dream for many Iraqis and expatriates is becoming a reality. Elections are occurring in Iraq, and Iraqi expatriates around the world are being given an opportunity to participate in the event.
Expatriates and other eligible voters must meet at least one of three requirements necessary to be considered for participation in the election. The current criteria states that an individual must be an Iraqi citizen, one’s father must be an Iraqi citizen or that one must be eligible to reclaim Iraqi citizenship. All individuals qualified to register also must be born prior to December 31, 1986.
Five cities in America — Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, have been selected to serve as polling and registration sites. Registration to vote began Monday and has now been extended to next Monday.
Those outside Iraq who are eligible to vote will be able to do so from Jan. 28 to 30. Voters will select a party, which will be alotted a proportional percentage in Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly.
Al-Bassam said that she thinks out-of-country voting is a good idea because it allows for fair representation of the different Iraqi ethnic groups.
“I think every faction should be fairly represented, and the election is a good way to voice what they feel and help shape the government to what the people want,” she said.
Though many of the Iraqis living in the United States feel that an election process is necessary in Iraq, not everyone agrees with the idea of allowing Iraqi expatriates to take part in the formation of a transitional assembly.
University alum Areej El-Jawahri expressed her discontent with Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission’s decision to allow for out-of-country Iraqis to participate in the formation of the transitional assembly.
“I feel that a lot of people left Iraq a while back and did not go through the suffering,” she said. She added that Iraqis in Iraq should have a democratic process so that their suffering voices will finally be heard.
El-Jawahri said that she feels that there would be a problem of perception concerning the out-of-country votes due to the influence of Western ideas.
“We (out-of-country Iraqis) are isolated from the process, and I feel that the Iraqis should be given a chance to establish a fair government,” El-Jawahri said. “Iraqi-American ideas are taken with a grain of salt, and their vote would not be representative.”
Within the United States, 5,246 individuals have registered to vote within the first two days of registration, which began on Monday.
June Chua, an external relations officer for Iraq Out of Country Voting USA, based in Washington, said that the registration deadline was extended in part due to the extreme cold weather that some of the selected cities have been experiencing, making it difficult for potential voters to come register at the polling sites.
The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, located in the country, had requested the help of the International Organization of Migration, a Geneva-based organization that has helped organize other out-of-country elections. The IOM worked with governments in 14 countries to survey and select cities across the world that would cater to the maximum number of Iraqi expatriates for that country.
Lou Fintor, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the United States “welcome(s) the effort of the IOM and IECI to provide people with an opportunity to vote. We are cooperating with the IOM to facilitate registration.”
Fintor also said that the IOM estimates that there are 100,000 individuals in the U.S. who are eligible to participate in the election process.
Chua said that the polling site and registration has been running smoothly and that the mood has been jubilant. But those who have registered to vote have mentioned minor complications that have occurred due to the language differences and lack of appropriate documentation to prove citizenship.
Martin Manna, Executive Director of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, based in Farmington Hills, registered to vote on Monday. He said that security at the polling site has been very tight, and security guards have been escorting cars for parking as well as individuals to the entrance.
He added that the polling site is proving to be an inconvenience to his community because many people live in Macomb and Oakland counties.
“We are assisting our community members by providing bus services from the Chaldean Catholic Churches to the polling place in Southgate,” Manna said.
His group has been insisting that his community members look at the bigger picture and take part in history, as well as help protect minority rights in Iraq.
Even with the potential controversies and complications that surround the process of out-of-country voting, Al-Bassam summed up the hopes that are riding on this election process.
“I hope that Iraq will move on from the war scene and progress successfully and become a more stable and prosperous country,” she said.
Two forms of documentation are required to provide proof of Iraqi descent, and registration must occur in person. The local polling center is located in Southgate, Detroit at 15600 Northline. Further information and other details regarding eligibility and documentation are available at www.iraqocv.org.