Many Iraqi nationals now living in America have voluntarily exiled themselves from the brutal reality of daily bombings, continuing insurgency and military occupation in their homeland. Likely finding some solace in being half a world away from the turmoil, Iraqi Americans will also have the comfort of being able to vote in an unprecedented democratic election on Jan. 30, with little fear of widespread violence.
That is, if only they could get to the polls.
With U.S.-sponsored elections about a week away, and the U.S. government announcing its severely deficient registration and polling locations just recently, turnout is likely to be low at home and abroad, sending another message of slapdash planning that will still carry a heavy price tag.
In Iraq, as President Bush correctly noted during his recent media blitz, voters are “staying away because of fear, not because they don’t want to vote, but because of fear.” Iraqis in the United States, however, are staying away from the polls because of geographical boundaries and the administration’s belated announcement.
Iraqi expatriates, estimated at one million by the International Office of Migration, will be able to vote from polling locations in 14 countries worldwide. The maneuver by international agencies is to be commended, but the number of polling locations in the United States is not.
The number of voting sites, nationwide, is five.
Granted, booths are set up near metropolitan areas with dense Iraqi populations, including Nashville, Tenn., home of the largest Kurdish population in the U.S., and near Detroit, Mich., where an estimated 80,000 Iraqis live. There are stations in California and Maryland as well.
But in a country as large as the United States, Iraqi nationals are inevitably dispersed. In an interview with NBC’s Nightly News, Hussein al-Jobory, who resides in Albuquerque, NM, is 12 hours from the nearest registration and voting site, located in Irvine, Calif. He resigned to mutter, “I hope that maybe the next time that they could do it the right way.”
To travel that distance within the allotted seven-day registration period with only a few days notice, then to return home only to leave again for voting is too much to ask of Iraqis who are attempting to live a normal lifestyle.
Announcing polling stations so late is attributed to security concerns, which is understandable concerning the circumstances. Leaving absentee ballots or on-line voting off the list of options and positioning only five polling locations in the entire country is shameful.
“Those who live in the United States and love the United States would like to see the best for the country they came from, yet they’re being disenfranchised,” said Iraqi Auday Arabo during the same Nightly News report.
Iraqis are far from true democracy, and the president’s motto of “the fact that there’s a vote is fantastic” won’t help defeat the insurgency in their native country nor rectify careless planning here. The administration’s shortsightedness is especially hard to tolerate when the price tag for Iraqi voting in the United States is $92 million, coming mostly from taxpayers
Iraqis who have already registered are understandably excited about their historical opportunity. Others are left wondering if they are eligible to vote, or remain puzzled as to when or how they are going to reach their nearest polling location.
“The election process reflects a lot of the sort of ignorance and incompetence that you see more generally in the Bush administration’s policy toward Iraq,” said Mike Amitay, executive director of the Washington Kurdish Institute to NBC correspondent Kerry Sanders.
In a country where Iraqis do not have to constantly worry about roadside bombings and constant gunfire, and where voting infrastructure is not in terminal danger, the United States should have taken more competent steps toward ensuring the opportunity to vote safely, easily and quickly. Sadly, more often than not, the Bush administration just can’t seem to get its shoes untied.