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BROOKFIELD, Wis. — Iranians living in Wisconsin participated in their country's presidential election on Friday, casting paper ballots for their next leader who lives thousands of miles away.
By Friday afternoon, dozens had visited quiet a polling station in a hotel conference room in Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee. Turnout was small and scattered, and poll workers said more people might show up after work.
While some remained tight-lipped on their votes, others said they are looking for a leader who is less of a hardliner than current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and would instead devote more attention to improving Iran's conditions at home and its reputation abroad.
"Our country has huge economic and political problems," said Mohamad Sadegh Sotoudegan, a Marquette University Ph.D. student from Tehran. "I just wanted to vote for someone who is a semi-reformist and wants to change the country in a better way."
Sotoudegan, who traveled by bus from Milwaukee, chose moderate candidate Hasan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator. Sotoudegan said he likes Rowhani's promise to hold more diplomatic talks and reduce outside sanctions against Iran.
University of Wisconsin-Madison Ph.D. student Alireza Ousati, of Tehran, said he also voted for Rowhani, whom he hopes would be a "less dangerous, less destructive" president that can soften Iran's relationship with other countries.
"I hope we can at least fix it partially," said Ousati, who drove more than an hour to vote. "At the end of day, that will translate into a better economic situation."
Ousati said although he doesn't like the overall quality of the candidates, he supported Rowhani because of his popularity among moderates in Iran.
UW-Milwaukee graduate student Reihaneh Hamidi — who also voted for Rowhani — said although the candidate isn't perfect, he appears less extreme.
Hamidi, who came to the U.S. four years ago, said she chose Rowhani because he openly criticized the current Iranian administration for its foreign policy and nuclear program and seems to have a greater focus on economic development.
Hamidi said she is confident Rowhani will eventually win the election because voting results in countries like Australia and Malaysia have shown him leading in the race.
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. If no candidate gets more than half of the votes Friday, a runoff election will be held next Friday.
Ousati, who came to the U.S. three years ago, said he might consider returning home after he finishes his program should Iran's domestic conditions improve. He said he is hopeful of a more transparent and less chaotic government after this election.
"My question is how we choose to start," Ousati added.