Registration requirements are cause for confusion
Nashville's Kurdish population, the largest enclave of Kurds in the United States, is excited about the opportunity to vote in Iraq's national election at the end of the month.
But there's also plenty of confusion about the voting process. Before anyone can vote in the Jan. 28-30 balloting, they must prove when they register to vote that they were born in Iraq. Registration will begin Monday at a polling location that vote organizers expect to announce either today or tomorrow.
Many Kurds believe the registration requirement will be problematic.
"In my family, none of us have documents. We left the mountains without anything," said Isa Chalky, who left Iraq as a teenager. "My name does not exist on any records. I don't have a birth certificate, and that's the same situation of most other Kurds who live in Nashville."
His brother, Saeed Chalky, of the Kurdish Human Rights Watch in Nashville, said many local families fled northern Iraq in 1988 when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq. Thousands were killed.
"They didn't stop to take documents. They left with nothing. Now there is concern whether they will be able to vote," he said.
Meanwhile, the rumor mill is working overtime in the Kurdish community. Over the weekend there were reports that families could register together, with only the patriarch or matriarch of the family required to show identification. He or she would then vouch for the remainder of the family.
Yesterday, the rumor was that local Kurdish organizations would collect names of the eligible voters and vouch for them at registration.
"We have heard everything. We don't know what is true," said Kalil Sofi of the Nashville Kurdish Forum.
None of the rumors is true, said Karen Hirschfeld, head of the Nashville office of the Iraq out-of-country voting program. Nashville is one of five cities across the United States chosen as a polling location for Iraqi expatriates.
"I do understand that people don't have documents, but it's not documents from Iraq that they necessarily need to prove they were born in Iraq," said Hirschfeld, who is employed by the International Organization of Migration, the agency authorized to organize polling in 14 countries outside Iraq.
Two forms of identification will be required to register to vote. One should be a photo identification, such as a driver's license or an ID issued by an international institution, such as the Red Cross. The birth date must be provided, because only people 18 and older are eligible to vote.
The second should be documentation such as a passport, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services I-94 form (an arrival-departure notice), or a green card, the document issued to foreign nationals living here on a permanent basis.
"Everyone that's in this country legally has to have some kind of documentation, so they should have it," said Hirschfeld.
"Everyone who votes will have to have their own separate documentation. One person cannot register for the whole family."
By LEON ALLIGOOD