East Coast Iraqis Begin Vote Today in N.Va.

By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Starting today, thousands of Iraqi nationals living up and down the Eastern Seaboard are expected to turn out in Northern Virginia to help elect Iraq's first full-term parliament.

A site in McLean, the Best Western Tysons Westpark, was selected to serve as one of eight voting centers nationwide. Other polling places are in Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee and California, where three days of balloting ending Thursday will be held to select members of Iraq's new government.

Once members of parliament are elected, they will select Iraq's prime minister and president.

Fairfax County police said yesterday that they will provide security at the polling place in McLean.

Organizers in charge of out-of-country voting in the United States, which is managed directly by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said yesterday that they believe today's election will run more smoothly and attract more voters than the historic election that occurred in January.

During that election, 1,919 Iraqis cast their ballots at Washington's polling site in New Carrollton. Nationwide, nearly 24,500 Iraqis voted.

"We're hoping it's going to be considerably more than that," said Michael Youash, spokesman for Iraq's Out of Country Voting Program in the United States. "But the main thing to remember . . . is it's not the actual number that's critical. It's the importance of these people's voices being heard."

Officials with the U.S. Department of State said about 240,000 eligible Iraqi voters are in this country.

They are among an estimated 1.5 million voters living outside Iraq who can cast ballots at polling centers in 15 countries.

"We very much appreciate the importance of Iraqi expatriates because they represent the cream of our society," said Mohamed Hindawi, manager of the voting program. "They are mostly intellectual, highly educated people. We need them to realize they are very important to our nation."

Youash said voting in the United States -- specifically, registering to vote -- will be easier than in January, when it had to be completed two weeks before ballots were cast. During this election, voters can register on the spot, he said.

"We're hoping that will compensate for a lot," Youash said, noting that the elections are being held during the week, which is less convenient for some people coming from out of state. "We have been working nonstop. The staff are ready to go. The [polling] centers are ready to absorb anything. We've completely geared ourselves up, and we're ready for a robust turnout."

To be eligible to participate, voters must prove their identity (with at least two documents issued by a state agency or international institution), Iraqi nationality and that they were born on or before Dec. 31, 1987.

The polls, at 8401 Westpark Dr. in McLean, will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Thursday. For more information, visithttp://www.iraqvote.org.

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