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Exclusive - Iran’s US ballot station plan sees mixed results as some venues cancel voting events

Iranian Americans protest outside Iran’s interests section office in Washington, June 28, 2024, as it hosts an absentee voter ballot station for the first round of the Iranian presidential election.
Iranian Americans protest outside Iran’s interests section office in Washington, June 28, 2024, as it hosts an absentee voter ballot station for the first round of the Iranian presidential election.

Iran’s plan to run absentee voter ballot stations in more than 30 U.S. cities for the first round of its presidential election had mixed results, a VOA investigation has found.

Information obtained and reviewed by VOA indicates that absentee voting events were held on Friday in at least half of the 33 venues displayed on a list of U.S. ballot stations published online by Iran's interests section office in Washington.

But the voting operation also suffered setbacks, with three of the listed venues canceling their voting events on Friday under pressure from Iranian American activists and protesters who oppose Iran’s authoritarian Islamist rulers.

Organizers responded to two of the cancelations by updating the list of ballot stations to show last-minute switches to alternate venues.

The most prominent absentee voting site was Washington’s Iranian interests section office, where a VOA Persian reporter observed about 35 people arriving to vote in a nine-hour period. Dozens of protesters shouted at the voters, accusing them of supporting an Iranian government that oppresses its people and legitimizing a sham election whose only candidates were loyalists of Iran’s supreme leader.

In addition to Washington, VOA assessed that voting events were held at 18 sites on Iran’s list of ballot stations. VOA obtained verbal confirmations in Friday phone calls to staff at 12 hotels on the list and vetted activists’ images of the other six venues.

The 12 hotels included four Hilton properties in Lincoln, Nebraska, Long Island City, New York, Milpitas, California and Seattle, Washington; four Hyatt properties in Dallas, Texas, Fort Lee, New Jersey, Houston, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina; two Marriott properties in Cleveland, Ohio and Mesa, Arizona; an IHG property in Chicago, Illinois; and the Savai Hotel in Overland Park, Kansas.

Social media videos indicated that two additional hotels hosted ballot stations despite hotel staff saying they had no knowledge of such activity.

Multiple videos posted to X and sent to VOA by activists showed an entrance to one hotel, Hilton’s DoubleTree in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where several Iranians could be seen standing outside and exiting the building as activists in the parking lot verbally berated them for participating in the election.

A DoubleTree manager contacted by phone and informed of the videos maintained that the hotel was not being used as a ballot station.

The other hotel, Choice Hotel's Comfort Inn Sandy Springs in Atlanta, Georgia, appeared in a mobile phone video posted to X. An activist holding the phone walked into the hotel and entered a function room serving as a ballot station, interacting with the Iranian attendants before apparently being told to leave.

A hotel staff member who answered the phone said he had “no idea” about the event.

Two other ballot station venues were seen in social media images showing that voting activity had taken place for several hours before being canceled in the face of protests. Organizers relocated one of the venues to a third ballot station.

Activists outside the Ontario Airport Hotel & Conference Center in California were seen shouting at several Iranians who showed up to vote on Friday morning before the hotel canceled the event at around 11 a.m. local time. A staff member who answered the phone confirmed the cancelation, which prompted the venue’s removal from an updated version of Iran's ballot station list.

Another group of activists outside The Congregational Church of Weston in Massachusetts were seen in a video posted on X. The activists jeered at a car leaving the site and cheered when a police officer told them that organizers were preparing to shut down the ballot station.

An updated Friday version of Iran’s ballot station list showed the Weston venue was replaced by an Islamic center in Milford, Massachusetts. A photo posted to X showed an Iranian voting notice on the center's front door, indicating that it also was used as a ballot station.

A sixth venue where voting activity appeared on social media was an office building of Easterns Automotive Group, a used car dealership in Sterling, Virginia. A video posted to X showed a man walking up to the entrance as a guard opened the door, which displayed an Iranian election notice.

A review of Friday updates to Iran’s ballot station list showed the Sterling venue replaced the nearby Hilton McLean Tysons Corner hotel, which had been listed earlier as a ballot station before its station number was removed from the list. Siamak Aram, an activist with the National Solidarity Group for Iran, told VOA that his group had contacted the hotel to urge cancelation of the voting event. A hotel staffer who answered the phone confirmed that the event was not on Friday's schedule.

Iran’s ballot station list contained another three hotels and an event hall for which there were no confirmations of voting activity from staff contacted by phone and no social media images of such events found by VOA. They included a Hilton hotel in Rancho Cordova, California, an IHG hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Biltmore Hotel Oklahoma and The Rose Court event hall in Tampa, Florida.

The remaining nine venues on the ballot station list included four Islamic centers in Detroit, Michigan, Manassas, Virginia, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon. The others were a landscaping company in Buffalo, New York, and four Virginia and Maryland locations that a mobile voting station was slated to visit during the day.

The addresses of all the U.S. ballot stations besides Iran’s interests section office only began to appear online as voting began on Friday morning. In almost all cases, the addresses were displayed as street names and numbers, without the venues being named. The entire list was deleted on Saturday.

“The Islamic Republic and its agents understand that the regime is deeply unpopular in the Iranian diaspora, whose members are channeling the voices of their Iran-based compatriots calling for regime change,” said Jason Brodsky, policy director of U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, in a VOA interview.

“The regime and its agents fear the Iranian diaspora because of its organizing power, so they want to keep this U.S. voting activity as quiet as possible to prevent embarrassing situations in which their fellow Iranians denounce the election for the sham that it is,” Brodsky said.

Soran Khateri of VOA’s Persian Service contributed to this report.

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