LOS ANGELES (AP) — With their passports in tow, Iranian-Americans and expatriates trickled into polling sites across the United States on Friday, joining their countrymen half a world away in voting in Iran's presidential election.
By midday in Los Angeles, there was no sign of the line that formed at the same location during Iran's last election in 2009, when record numbers of Iranians voted in 41 locations throughout the U.S.
About 40 people gathered in a Westin hotel conference room, dipped their fingers in ink and voted for a candidate to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As they tossed their paper ballots into a box and grabbed a cookie on their way out, many declined to share their thoughts on Iran's future out of fear of reprisals.
But to vocal expatriates, the act of voting for president was a means of showing their support for democracy in Iran. For some, it was a way to come to terms with the violence and unrest that broke out four years ago.
Golnar K. was a student at the University of Tehran when the Green Movement riots began after Ahmadinejad's re-election. She declined to give her last name because she is barred from going home to Iran. She said her participation in anti-government protests has landed her on government lists that would send her to jail.
On Friday, the Westlake Village woman was dressed head-to-toe in green, the color of 2009's reform movement. She was brought to tears as she recalled her friends' arrests, protesters' deaths at the hands of military police, and what she believes was a rigged election.
Golnar said she voted for the moderate candidate, Hassan Rowhani, alongside her mother and aunt.
"They may cheat again," she said, switching between English and Farsi. "But if I know that my vote even has one-thousandth of an impact and I didn't do anything, I would never forgive myself."
Voters across age groups — and states — echoed her sentiments.
Amir Hossein-Salimi, 31, joined dozens of men and women — some donning the traditional Muslim head covering, and others in the full black burqa revealing only their eyes — lined up at an Islamic school in Houston.
"It would be nice if there was some sort of change in our country, but we want to do it within the rules and regulations, so this is the reason I'm showing up here," said Hossein-Salimi, who moved to Houston nearly three years ago to pursue a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and now works for an oil and gas company.
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 were located there. Besides the Los Angeles area, San Diego and San Francisco, cities where balloting was held included Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
To cast ballots, voters needed only to show a valid Iranian passport. They had six presidential candidates to choose from: Hassan Rowhani, Mohsen Rezai, Saeed Jalili, Mohammad Gharazi, Mohammad Qalibaf and Ali Akbar Velayati.
Turnout was expected to be lower this year than in 2009. The addresses of polling locations were only announced Thursday, and changes were being made into the evening.
Los Angeles' voters learned of the Westin voting location Friday morning. Some drove more than 40 miles; other sat in L.A.'s notorious traffic for hours. But none of that would have deterred those who did show up to vote.
"The situation in Iran is so hard. We don't want to uproot everything," Golnar K. said. "We just want small changes. We want it so bread doesn't cost 4,000 toman. We want people to be able to eat. It's a simple request."
Contributing to this report were Associated Press videojournalist David R. Martin in New York and AP writers Tamara Lush in Tampa, Fla., Kevin Wang in Milwaukee and Ramit Plushnick-Masti in Houston.