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 voted 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 to prevent multiple balloting. They 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 in the race.
Similar sentiments were expressed by voters in Houston, Wisconsin and New York.
"It's mostly about trying to transform the country even a tad in the right direction," said Farzad Novin, who voted in the New York borough of Queens.
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 passport. They had six presidential candidates to choose from: Rawhani, Mohsen Rezai, Saeed Jalili, Mohammad Gharazi, Mohammad Qalibaf and Ali Akbar Velayati.
Turnout was expected to be lower this year than in 2009, when record numbers of Iranians voted in 41 locations throughout the U.S. during Iran's last election.
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.
None of that seemed to matter to those who did show up to vote.
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 in the city.
Reza Roodsari was among the steady stream of voters in Queens.
"Basically, I see this election as a kind of protest against what's going on in Iran and what has been going on during the last four years," Roodsari said. "So my vote is a kind of protest for me."
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.