News / Africa

Libyans Upset Over Restrictive Voting Abroad

Libyans are voting freely for the first time in more than 60 years. They will elect a 200-member General National Congress to write a constitution and serve as an interim government.  Libyans living in the United States started casting their ballots Tuesday and will continue through Saturday night. Some Libyans say the process is flawed and disenfranchises many who live abroad.

Few Libyans remember days like this when they could vote.  And, it counted.

“Just saying that -- Libyan government.  'Voting for the Libyan government' has a nice, sweet ring to it,” said Libyan voter Adam Sbita.

Overseas Locations for Libyan Voting

United States
United Arab Emirates

Each country has one balloting location, except for Jordan, which has two.
Voters say the ink on their finger reminds them of the blood of Libyans who died, liberating their country from 42 years of autocratic rule by Moammar Gadhafi.

“It’s like the taste of freedom," voter Naji Abdelwanis exclaimed.  It’s like a feeling I cannot describe.”

Mohamed Gibani will not experience that same feeling.  He lives in California and cannot travel to Washington.

“Myself and four children that’s $5,000, almost $5,000 -- that’s a lot of money to cast a vote,” he said. 

Washington is the only polling place for Libyans in the United States.  And voters must appear in person. There are no electronic or mail-in ballots.

Just one location for what the embassy estimates are 25,000 Libyans living in the United States.  The ambassador says he requested eight different locations, but was turned down by the High National Election Commission.

“The time and the pressure does not serve us to have more than one location,” explained US Ambassador to Libya, Ali Aujali.

Yet, Egypt in the first election since its revolution, held balloting in five different U.S. cities and 141 countries.  And, absentee ballots were accepted by mail.  

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was hired to conduct the Libyan elections abroad.  The intergovernmental organization is much better known for its support of humane migration policies, than for its election work.  Sources say IOM was paid a multi-million-dollar contract to hold elections in six countries. 

“IOM is the implementing partner, but all the legal and policy decisions are taken by the HNEC,” said Katy Collin, U.S. voting coordinator.

Despite VOAs numerous attempts, the HNEC--the High National Election Commission--could not be reached for comment.  Libyan Ali Mohammed Alawaj says he might protest that lack of openness and not drive four hours to vote in Washington.  

“They say, okay, let’s do it in phases…maybe we’ll start with a little bit -- 10 percent will vote in the U.S. now but next year will be 80 percent, But that doesn’t work.  Because democracy freedom and the people who died in Libya didn’t ask for that," he said. "They want 100 percent freedom.  100 percent democracy.”

Others say things will get better. They know that change happens...because this was nine months ago…..and this is now.

Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

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