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Iraqi Immigrants Get More Time to Register to Vote

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 24, 2005; Page A10

Iraqi immigrants, some of whom may have failed to register to vote in their homeland's upcoming national election because of weather conditions or a recent Muslim holiday, have been given two more days to do so.

Registration for the Jan. 30 Iraq elections, which was to have ended yesterday, is extended until tomorrow night for polling places in all 14 countries outside Iraq where Iraqis are allowed to vote, according to Jeremy Copeland, the U.S. country chief of external relations for the International Organization for Migration's Iraq Out-of-Country Program.

The registration and voting site for Iraqis living in the northeastern United States is the New Carrollton Ramada Inn and Conference Center.

Organizers also extended the polling places' closing time to 7 p.m. today and tomorrow to accommodate people who cannot leave work early.

After registration ends, Iraqi immigrants who want to vote must return to the site from Jan. 28 to Jan. 30. Voter lists will be inspected for validity in the period between registration and voting.

According to the most recent figures available, 1,511 people had registered at the New Carrollton polling site by the end of Saturday, and 16,794 had registered across the United States. The other U.S. voting centers are in Nashville, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles. Organizers had estimated that as many as 240,000 Iraqi-Americans might be eligible to vote, including as many as 20,000 in the northeastern United States.

"We wanted to make it possible for as many Iraqis as possible to take part in this vote," Copeland said, explaining the registration deadline extension. "For us in the United States, it was a good bonus," he added, because Saturday's snowstorm likely forced many potential voters to stay home.

Copeland also noted that many Iraqis might have stayed away from registering because they were observing the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which began Thursday and ended Saturday.

Officials have reported no security problems, despite concerns aired this month by Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) that security at the hotel was "totally inadequate."

Michael Irish'Stephenson, an official with the International Organization for Migration, said the number of people registering each day has been increasing. Registration began Jan. 17.

To be eligible, U.S. residents must have been 18 or older by Dec. 31 and must show evidence that they are Iraqi citizens or former citizens who acquired U.S. citizenship or that their father was a native of Iraqi. "We had an older couple in here from Miami, of all places," he said. "Some people have started singing after registration. A couple of people have been clapping."

Najmaldin Karim, president of the Washington Kurdish Institute, said turnout would have been higher had people been allowed to vote when they registered. "Something may happen, or someone could talk them out of voting or there could be personal matters" that could prevent them from returning to the Washington area to vote, Karim said.

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