Iranian-Americans and expatriates vote in election

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Iranian-Americans and expatriates cast ballots Friday in polling places across the United States, joining their countrymen half a world away in selecting the next Iranian president.

In Tampa, Fla., people from as far as North Carolina cast ballots in a hotel conference room, said Abbas Hashemy, a 56-year-old business owner who was overseeing the polling place.

The mood was festive as voters pressed their right index finger on an ink pad, showed their passports and, finally, slipped a paper ballot into a box. A few children in the room snacked on apples and pears that were set out in large bowls.

Behza Khajavi took photos of his friends voting and asked them to take a photo of him as he grinned and submitted his ballot.

“I hope we take a step toward democracy,” said the 29-year-old Ph.D. candidate in physics from Boca Raton, Fla. He cast his ballot for Hasan Rowhani, the only relative moderate left in the race.

At a hotel in Brookfield, Wis., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee graduate student Reihaneh Hamidi was among those voting. She, too, chose Rowhani, saying she preferred him because he criticized the current Iranian administration for its foreign policy and nuclear program and seems to have a greater focus on economic development.

The five other presidential candidates are: Mohsen Rezai, Saeed Jalili, Mohammad Gharazi, Mohammad Qalibaf and Ali Akbar Velayati.

During Iran’s last election, in 2009, record numbers of Iranians voted in 41 locations throughout the U.S. This year, there are half as many voting locations, and turnout is expected to be lower.

Some analysts attribute the expected drop to the controversy surrounding Iran’s election four years ago, when droves of Iranians took to the streets in support of the reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, and protested President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election.

Large numbers of young people gathered in major cities, some carrying signs that read “Where is my vote?” Clashes erupted between activists and police.

“Both in the diaspora and in Iran itself, people lost confidence in the worth of their vote,” said Reza Aslan, adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Another impediment to turnout this year was confusion over the location of polling places. The addresses were only announced Thursday, and changes were being made into the evening.

U.S. Census figures show about 414,000 Iranians live in the U.S. California has the most, and six of the 20 polling places around the country are located there. Besides the Los Angeles area, San Diego and San Francisco, cities where balloting will be held include New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Anyone with a valid Iranian passport can vote at the polling locations, most of which are held in hotels and mosques and are run by volunteers.

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Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in Tampa, Fla., and Kevin Wang in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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