Pomona Fairplex hosts vote

12/13/2005 4:53:56 PM

Iraqi expatriates to cast ballots over next three days

POMONA - About 3,000 Iraqi expatriates - some traveling from Arizona and Nevada - may arrive at Fairplex over the next three days to cast their votes for a new Iraqi parliament, officials say.

Fairplex is one of three locations in California where Iraqi Americans can vote for members of the 275-seat parliament. There are only four other cities nationwide where votes may be cast.

David Yousif, California spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said he expects a greater turnout over the next three days than in January's elections for the country's transitional National Assembly.

"Last time, there was only one polling place in California. People came from San Francisco, San Jose, Arizona," he said of that election's polling location at the former El Toro Marine Base. Also, voters can register to vote the same day this week, unlike in January's election, when voters had to make two trips, Yousif said.

Yousif, a chemist who is Assyrian Christian, moved his family to the United States from Al Anbar, Iraq, soon after the Persian Gulf War to "improve my kids' future," and to escape religious persecution.

But he said he was not necessarily planning to vote along religious lines.

"This is the new Iraq!" he said. "It's not, `who is Christian, or who is Muslim.' I'm going to vote for anyone who is going to serve Iraq best." Pollworker Sedeer Saba,CQ 25, of Upland said it has been difficult for people to keep abreast of the thousands of candidates - there more than 200 political parties - and that most people she knows get their information via the Internet.

But "people want to participate, and they are well informed," said Saba, who graduated from UCLA in Middle Eastern Studies. Out-of-state voters may come by the busloads, said Mosadek Alattar,CQ director of Out of Country Voting for the IEC.

"They're calling us, they're reserving hotels. Iraqis are taking this very seriously. This is going to determine the future of Iraq," he said.

Voters will cast ballots at one of four stations for one candidate among a list that spans the four-page ballot.

The IEC chose Fairplex because it offers the best security, Yousif said, adding they hired a private security service along with enlisting the help of the Pomona Police Department.

Pomona police Lt. Ron McDonald said he is not expecting anything out of the ordinary.

"We have received no intelligence information that's unusual," he said. "We're just preparing, so we can assure a safe environment."

shirley.hsu@sgvn.com

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