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Ms. Kablan took leave of absence from her job as a high school teacher in Cincinnati in February 2011 to join the revolution. She helped set up a Libyan TV station, Al-Ahrar, in Doha, Qatar.

Questions about life in the Gadhafi regime touch raw nerves for many Libyan-Americans.

Ms. Kablan’s cousin was assassinated in 1975 and two of her nephews were thrown into Tripoli’s notorious Abu Slim prison, where more than 1,200 inmates were massacred in 1996. Their family was never told why they were locked up. Both are now free.

Asma Ramadan’s father, Aly Abuzaakouk, was imprisoned and tortured for his criticism of the regime. Mr. Abuzaakouk later moved with his family to the United States and is now a candidate in the elections.

‘I must vote’

Washington-based Ms. Ramadan co-founded Libya Outreach, a Libyan-American grass-roots group that sprang up at the time of the revolution. She is thrilled that she got the opportunity to vote this week.

“Too many people died for me now not to vote,” she said.

“So, of course, I must vote,” she said. “I must vote like I must drink water.”

Libyan-Americans say the priorities of their elected representatives must be to secure the country, unite its tribes and build infrastructure that has been ravaged by a combination of war and neglect.

Gadhafi, who ruled Libya for 42 years, was killed in the custody of rebels in his hometown, Sirte, east of Tripoli on Oct. 20.

Since the regime’s fall, the interim government has struggled to control the militias, many of which are now a law unto themselves.

On fact-finding missions in May and June, Amnesty International found “hundreds of armed militias continue to act above the law, many refusing to disarm or join the national army or police force.”

The “ongoing serious human rights violations … are casting a huge shadow over the country’s first national elections,” Amnesty says in a report this week.

Brussels-based International Crisis Group warned that the elections in the eastern part of the country are “imperiled” by armed protesters who are frustrated by the government’s neglect.

On Sunday, armed men ransacked election offices in cities in Libya’s east, including Benghazi, the cradle of the revolution.