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Published: Thursday, 1/27/2005

26,000 in U.S. register to vote in Iraq's election


About 26,000 people living in the United States registered to vote in this weekend's historic Iraqi election, the country's Out-of-Country Voting Program announced yesterday.

Even though the program estimated more than 2 million Iraqi expatriates are eligible to vote, only about 280,000 worldwide signed up before the nine-day registration period ended on Tuesday. An estimated 10 percent of eligible voters in the United States met the cutoff date, according to the program operated by the International Organization for Migration.

More than 9,700 potential voters registered in Southgate, Mich., the nearest polling site, which hosted the largest turnout of any location in North America. The election is open to registered people born in Iraq, former Iraqi citizens, or people whose fathers are Iraqi nationals.

The low turnout figures were surprising to Vanessa Denha-Garmo, the co-publisher and editor of The Chaldean News, a Farmington Hills, Mich.-based monthly newspaper. Ms. Denha-Garmo, a member of the ancient Christian sect of Assyrian Chaldeans, is planning to vote in the Jan. 28-30 election.

"I really thought there would be a bigger turnout," said Ms. Denha-Garmo, who has never lived in Iraq. "There's mixed emotions. A lot of the people I talked to just weren't going to vote. Some are very excited. It really depends on who you talk to."

While some expatriates are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to vote, others residing in the United States say they don't feel comfortable voting for another country's leaders. Rumors that registration information will be made public and voters will lose their citizenship have also dissuaded some from participating.

Ms. Denha-Garmo said many people don't want to travel long distances to vote and some are confused with the complicated election system.

Voters will cast ballots for political entities that will make up the nation's 275 member Transitional National Assembly. Votes will be tallied and converted to percentages corresponding to seats on the assembly, which will be charged with electing a president, two vice presidents, and drafting laws.

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