My first ballot

Except for the vote I cast a couple of months ago, not as a US citizen but as a property owner, to increase my parcel tax by $8 so that my county, Alameda county of California, would have the budget to fight the spread of West Nile virus, today was the first day I was legally permitted to vote in an election. The irony is that, these days nobody wants to vote and everyone is talking about boycotting the elections; even my friends back home, who voted passionately for Khatami, have decided not to vote this time around.

When I heard last night that this year there would be polling stations in the Bay Area for the Iranian presidential elections, I got so excited that I drove a 100 miles roundtrip to my uncle's to pick up my Iranian passport. This morning, I woke up at 8:30 am, all enthusiastic to exercise my right as an Iranian citizen.

On my way to the Emeryville polling station my mind wondered around many subjects, from the lyrics of the Shisho Hasht song “Bisto Haftom Ke Shod Hich Jaa Nemiram, Na Nemiram, Ra'y Nemidam, Ra'y Nemidam” to the threatening chain email I received yesterday quoting a secret service uncle of someone that there are plots by anti-revolutionaries to blow up polling stations. From knowing that for many people it's no big deal to be voting at 32 when every 16-year-old gets to vote, to when I will be able to vote in a US presidential election.

Well, finally I got to the Courtyard Hotel, turned right in to the parking lot, and there were no signs of an election in progress. No banners, no security guards, no black embassy limousines with bullet proof windows. Maybe it was all a big practical joke that my friends were playing on me, and there were no polling stations in the Bay Area after all. On second thought, what do I know about polling stations and how they should look like? I've never been to one before.

I walked in the lobby and sheepishly asked the receptionist about any polling stations around. Pointing to the left, she told me to turn right, and then right again. Kind of confused, I walked towards the direction she had pointed to, and suddenly I saw the words “Mahal-e Akhz-e Ra'y” printed in large Farsi font. Relieved I followed the signs down a hallway. Passed a huge American security guard and then another. A third security guard standing next to a door told me to knock and walk in.

It was a large quiet room with two desks and a few chairs on the left and a table with cookies and candies on the right. A teenage girl was sitting to the left of the door, wearing a scarf, a dark skirt down to her knees and black silk stockings. Three women were sitting on the chairs, no chadors, just scarves.

A clean shaved man in a gray suit with a mustache and a young woman neatly dressed were sitting behind the first desk. He asked for my passport, entered my information in his laptop. She took the print of my “Sab-baabe” finger, wrote down my name on a form and tore half of the sheet and gave it to me. I cleaned my finger with a WipeIt and took the 3'x5' piece of paper.

The guy instructed me to write the first and last name of the candidate of my choice on the paper and that there should be no extra marks. Ok now, what was the first name of Dr. Moin, or Rafsanjani?!! He must have noticed my perplexed face, because he pointed to a board behind me which had the full name of all the seven candidates and a paragraph description of each.

While I was standing at the board, the people in the room started talking. They must have all been related to each other, or at least very close friends. The conversation was about the teenage girls little bird, “Agha Taghi”, which kept fighting with the new bird she had just bought. Someone suggested she put a glass wall in the cage between the two so that they would see each other but could not fight.

After scanning through the candidate descriptions, and realizing that Rafsanjani's last name is really Bahremani and Larijani's first name is Ali Ardeshir and a few other interesting facts about the birth place and education of each candidate, I wrote down the first and last name of the candidate of my choice on the paper and walked towards the ballot box on the other desk at the end of the room.

The woman sitting behind the desk asked me to fold the paper before dropping it in the box. It was done. I had cast my first ballot. Filled with joy I started walking towards the cookies and candies by the right wall when one of the ladies said: Don't forget your passport. Embarrassed, I went and got my passport and quickly walked out of the room. I had forgotten all about the cookies.

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