Friday, March 12, 2010

Voting process unfair at best – By Ardalan Hardi

As I have done in the two previous Iraqi elections, I flew from Denver to San Diego to cast my vote. A month before the election date, I called a friend of mine that I visit while I am in San Diego to see if he knew where the voting location would be and whether anything had changed regarding voter requirements. He was not aware of any changes, but thought voting would be in the same location as the last time.

In previous elections all we had to provide was an American passport showing our original place of birth which verified we were from Iraq and we could cast our vote. To my surprise, when I went to vote this year, the electoral commission representatives refused to let me participate. They told me that in addition to my US passport I would also need to show an official Iraqi document proving the province of my birth. I tried to argue that I have been in the US since 1976 and a US citizen since the early 80s. I have lived in this country for over 30 years and do not have any official Iraqi documents, I stressed that I had voted in the last two elections and the passport I had provided in the past was sufficient documentation. My plea fell on deaf ears. I asked to talk to the person in charge, and the tall, slim, gentlemen in charge of the voting process seemed eager to help me. His name was Shakir Hansih was the polling station manager, I pointed to the stamps on my passport that clearly show I have visited Kurdistan on many different occasions. I explained the only reason I would go back so many times was to visit my family. At first he agreed, and I was elated. I then waited in a line for approximately a quarter of an hour then he came back and told me that I could not vote. He offered no explanation of what made him change his mind. I told him I thought it was absolutely ridiculous to expect me to still have an Iraqi document after 34 years in exile. Very courteously, he apologized, and said there was nothing he could do for me.

I find it ironic that I live in a country were the citizens are encouraged to vote. In fact the US government and many nonprofit organizations go to extreme measures to advertise on Radio and TV so Americans can have a better turn out on Election Day while some Iraqis go to a great deal of personal expense and then are deprived of the most elementary form of freedom - the right to vote.

I still did not give up. I waited while a few Kurdish friends pleaded my case but all was to no avail. Interestingly, my friend noticed that most of the people in charge of the voting stations were Sunni Arabs and all of them were wearing the old Batth flag on their collar. The other thing he noticed was that it appeared the only people being held back from voting were Kurds. It seemed like everyone else had no problem.

My friend, who has been a KDP supporter all of his life, noticed my profound disappointment and said I should not worry, and that he would give me his vote. He knew that I was a supporter of the Gorran List. I didn’t think he was serious. But he came out of the voting booth and pulled out his cell phone to show me a picture of the ballot to prove he voted for Gorran. I was shocked
and proud that he is my friend.

After I got back to Denver, another friend of mine who was with us during the whole voting fiasco called and said that an Arab friend she worked with told her many Sunni Arabs had the same problem and did not have the proper papers, but they still got to vote and most of them were instructed to vote as though they are from Kirkuk even though they were born in the different part of Iraq.

One other point that needs to be made is at the voting station in El Cajon, which is northeast of San Diego, 65 people were hired by the electoral commission to assist with the voting process, and only four of them were Kurds. Out of the four, not one of them was assigned the position of verifying the legitimacy of paper work. So much for checks and balances…... The Kurds were assigned the job of directing people to the queue.

Coming back from California I realized:

  1. KRG representatives in the US did a poor job of informing their constituencies about the documentation requirements needed to vote in this election. I am sure they probably tried, but whatever they did obviously did not work. They did not do a good job of getting the word out. As a result of their mishandling this critical information, I, along with many other Kurds did not get to vote. I also blame myself for not researching the facts more thoroughly before hand. As the old saying goes “God gives every bird it's food, but He does not throw it into its nest”.

  2. It appears some attempts were made to manipulate the voting process especially when it came to Kirkuk. It seemed discrimination played a role in who had the right to vote or not.

  3. Iraq will probably never be the secular Democratic country that the US government expects it to be. Iraqis will most likely vote along the Religious and Ethnic lines until the mistrust that exists among the different factions dissipates and the education levels are raised.

Albeit I am very disappointed in being denied the right to vote, I am still hopeful that the system will gradually improve. Thanks to President Bush I am very pleased that we Kurds, Arabs and Turks, whether Shiite, Sunni or Christian, have the opportunity to vote. It is my hope that by the next election more fair voting practices are in place to allow all Iraqis the privilege of casting their long awaited votes.

In closing, I would like to thank my friend for his wisdom, graciousness, warm hospitality and camaraderie. He reminded me of a long forgotten quote,
“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart”.

The one thing I hope all of my countrymen will take heed to is, if our assumption is correct, that whichever political party is in office is working to promote our cause, then it is ultimately more important that our vote is cast rather than who our vote is cast for.

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