Update: Though the Interests Section said in an email that a voting booth would be available at the UN mission, voting in New York will actually being take place at the Imam Ali Mosque (Razi School) in Woodside, Queens. For an updated list of voting locations, see this map.
On Friday, Iranians
will take to the polls to choose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor. For
some, the election was over before it began when, last month, the Islamic
Guardian Council excluded the participation of the two
candidates who held the most possibility for change -- Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. Brian Murphey, reporting for the AP, paints an elucidating
juxtaposition between the vibrant political scene surrounding 2009's Green
Movement when " four years ago, girls on rollerblades sped around [Tehran's Melhat] park
delivering fliers for the reform camp's candidate-hero Mir Hossein Mousavi"
and the current state of affairs where "there are just a few subdued election placards
for candidates considered fully in sync with Iran's ruling clerics."
But we need not look
as far as Tehran to get a feel for how different things are this time around.
As Iranians in the country gear up to vote, Iranian voters in the United States
are making significantly less noise about casting absentee ballots as compared
Four years ago, Iranian Americans took to the
polls in record numbers. Energized by the candidacy of Moussavi, 41 polling
stations in the United States were staffed by volunteers who encouraged voting
as a political gesture against the establishment. The U.S. Department of State
even weighed in with a gushing report on Iranians
in the United States contributing to the vote. Quoting then State Department
spokesman, Ian Kelly, the article pronounces that the United States "is 'always
encouraged' by free and lawful expression."
"I remember a
lot of hullabaloo about absentee voting in 2009, and a lot of people --
particularly to compare it to years past -- did participate in voting in the
United States," says Reza Marashi, research director for the National
Iranian American Council. He admits his own father, who had never voted before
in his life, even turned up to cast a ballot. "They wanted to get
Ahmadinejad out of power. It turns out their voting didn't matter."
Four years later, the
effects of 2009 do seem to be playing out among U.S. absentee voters. According
to Iran's permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, there will be half
the number of polling stations available in the United States. And as of
Wednesday, the Iranian Interests Section -- which functions in Washington in
lieu of a formal embassy -- has confirmed the location of two of these:
one at their own office in D.C. and another through the U.N. Mission in New
York. According to the Interests Section's website, more
places will be made available, though their precise locations are to be determined.
Part of the logistical difficulty is that, due to the absence of Iranian
diplomats in the United States, volunteers typically staff polling stations.
According to Marashi, they may be less inspired to participate in this year's
Iran boasts a unique
approach to absentee voting. Rather than having voters mail in ballots,
citizens are required to show up at designated polling stations in person with
an Iranian Passport and cast their votes -- a system that is proving
challenging elsewhere as well. In Syria, for example, Iran has taken pains to enable its citizens to vote in
the beleaguered country, setting up a station at the embassy as well as two
mobile ballot boxes. Meanwhile Canada -- which severed diplomatic relations with Tehran last
year -- has found itself locked in a blame game with the country over its own
absentee voters. Tehran accuses Prime Minister Stephen Harper's
government of failing to cooperate with Iranian efforts to set up polling
stations in Canada, while Canada's foreign minister, John Baird, charges Iran
with dropping the ball on the necessary arrangements, saying such "sidelining
of the sizable Iranian diaspora in Canada ... makes this upcoming election even
more of a sham."
While the United States
has not taken any ostensible steps to discourage voting, some Iranian Americans
have rejected the election on their own. "I don't think many Iranians will
vote this time because a lot of Iranians are boycotting the election,"
says Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, Rutgers professor and founder of the American
Iranian Council, who made headlines this year with his own quixotic bid
for president. He acknowledges that while there are certainly those in the United
States who support the religious establishment, they do not make up the
majority of the roughly one million Iranians who reside in the United States.
Compared to 2009,
Iranians might feel they don't have a viable candidate. "Over the past
four years, the range of political views has systematically shrunk,"
Marashi says. While Hassan Rowhani -- the country's former nuclear negotiator
-- has came out strong among liberals after the debates, garnering the support of reformist figures
like the disqualified Rasfanjani, he still does not represent the level of
departure held by the 2009 opposition. "If you were to compare it to a
color scale," Marashi explains, "prior to 2009 it was light gray to
pitch black. Now it's dark gray to pitch black. There's not a lot of diversity
of views around that table. In the bigger scheme of things, who's the
anti-establishment candidate? There really isn't one."
But even for those in the United States who
may want to vote, the experience of 2009 holds another lesson. Though an
admittedly less-than-definitive source, a small glimpse into voter attitudes
can be seen in this Reddit thread (because, yes, there's a Reddit
thread for everything) about voting as an Iranian-American. While some users
reflect interest in participating in the process for "symbolic"
reasons, others voice skepticism as to whether absentee votes are even tallied.
As one user advises: "You can vote, but don't. It's not like it's gonna
Marya Hannun is a freelance journalist and PhD student in Georgetown's Islamic Studies program.
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