March 6, 2010 - Iraqis In U.S. Get A Taste Of Their Democracy - Alameda County Fairgrounds One Of 8 U.S. Sites For Elections
Paper: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Title: Iraqis In U.S. Get A Taste Of Their Democracy - Alameda County Fairgrounds One Of 8 U.S. Sites For Elections
Date: March 6, 2010
Author: Pauline Lubens and Robert Jordan, Bay Area News Group
Abstract: Alameda County Fairgrounds one of 8 U.S. sites for elections
For Mezhar Albo Hassan and his family, voting in Iraq's election to choose the county's next leader was a family affair.
Albo Hassan, a San Jose handyman who left Iraq in 1991, said it was important for him to bring his three American-born children to the polls at the Alameda County Fairgrounds. He wants them to see Iraqi democracy in action and to learn about their culture.
"It felt like I gave my voice to my country," Albo Hassan said Friday after voting, sporting the trademark purple-ink-stained finger that signals a voter's eligibility. "I waited a long time for this."
The children, wearing hats bearing their country's flag and waving Iraqi flags, joined the thousands of Iraqi immigrants and first-generation Iraqis who are expected to converge on the fairgrounds for the three-day vote to select the Parliament.
The fairgrounds is hosting out-of-country Iraqi voting for a second time in five years. There are eight U.S. sites, three on the West Coast -- Pleasanton, El Cajon and Phoenix.
Albo Hassan said he had trouble sleeping Thursday night, in anticipation of casting his vote for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's slate. He said his aging mother is still living in southern Iraq, though his brothers have left and are living in Sweden.
Hirhyar Yousif, his two nephews and their father piled into a car and drove from Salt Lake City to vote in Pleasanton.
They left at 11 p.m. Thursday, weathered a snowstorm, and drove 750 miles over 11 hours to make sure they could vote in Iraq's second democratic election.
"It was good," Yousif said through the translation of his 12-year-old nephew Rezgar Slivany. "I took off two days of work, so no pay for me."
According to the United Nations Web site, as many as 3 million out-of-country Iraqi voters in 16 countries could participate. Voters will pick among roughly 6,529 candidates to serve a four-year term for the 325 seats in the Iraqi Parliament.
The line to vote Friday was short, but turnout is expected to jump sharply today and culminate Sunday with the elections in Iraq.
"I am very happy," said Yousif, a 2007 U.S. immigrant who took two unpaid work days off from Walmart to come. "In my country, I lived in northern Iraq and was not able to do this."
Daniel Rasho voted for the first time in the 2005 elections, but the Turlock resident didn't know then about Pleasanton polling and instead drove seven hours each way to vote in Irvine.
This year his trip took an hour. He came with his son Raymond and aunt Lusania Karma.
"I take pride in this," said Rasho, who immigrated in 1976. "We lost a lot of people, but hopefully we get something out of it."
As did many families, San Jose's Nema Al Jewad and his wife, Ghosoon Mohamed, brought their three children, Husian, 3, Mortatha, 5, and Barah, 12, with them.
"I'm happy to voice my choice for who will take care of Iraq," said Al Jewad, who left Samawa, Iraq, in 1990 and now owns a Middle Eastern Halal market, Anwar Bazaar, in San Jose.
The elections and democratic process in Iraq are evolving. After decades of rule by Saddam Hussein, Iraqis held a democratic vote in 2005 that consisted of more than 200 political parties and about 7,000 candidates for 275 seats. However, the ballot didn't have the names of the candidates, only the slate, or party. This year all the candidates' names are shown.
Walnut Creek's Valia Hermes, 27, became familiar with the ballot, thanks to e-mail updates beforehand and election-day translations from her mother, Rose Worda, who made the trip from Modesto to vote as well.
"It's important for us to have a voice for the Assyrians living there," said Hermes, who came to the United States at 4 months old. She is Assyrian, a Christian minority in Iraq. "I don't directly benefit because I live here, but for the people there it gives them one more voice."
Her mother, Worda, who voted in 2005, was not able to vote Friday because she did not have the proper paperwork. But she vowed to return today to vote.
"I don't want to miss this opportunity," she said. "I have been looking forward to this for years."
Edition: Valley Final
Record Number: 1354079
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