- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

On Monday, The Washington Times reported that with less than seven weeks before Iraq’s national elections, only 60,000 to 70,000 Iraqis have responded to the voter-registration drive there. There are 25 million Iraqis. To find and register them, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) — the U.N.-appointed group of Iraqis that oversees the voting — has been relying on the only thing approximating a national census: food-rationing lists. They’ve been sending registration cards to ration recipients, but the results have been disappointing. So things are shaping up worse than in Afghanistan, where 9 million of 9.5 million Afghans were registered more than two months before the November election. But the problems aren’t insurmountable.

IEC officials agree. “If there are people who aren’t on the voter register, they can come with two pieces of identification and they can register to vote,” IEC President Hussain Hindawi said in an interview last month with the United Nations’ IRIN news service. Later, IEC spokesman Farid Ayar pledged firmly to The Times that the IEC will not be deterred. “They can’t hit every single polling station,” he said, referring to insurgents’ plans to disrupt the election. “For me, a man who suffered under Saddam, I feel that this election is a turning point to create a new Iraq.” The securing of Fallujah and the boosting of troop numbers taking place in recent weeks will aid that vision. Clearly the IEC and the coalition will need to do much more to make it happen. While we are heartened by the resolve of IEC officials to get the job done, we reserve judgment on whether they can get the registrations up fast enough.

In the meantime, it’s worth pointing out that an imperfect Iraqi election would still be an unprecedented feat. Would the Iraqi election still be legitimate if one or more cities were excluded? We think so. Half the United States voted in 1864 to elect Abraham Lincoln, but the election served its purpose. “If there is no election in some cities, there will be no election at all,” Mr. Ayar said this summer. We disagree. If the insurgency prevents a vote in a few pockets throughout the country, that’s still better than the half-country that elected Lincoln, and it’s leagues better than the tyranny under Saddam Hussein that preceded it.

Besides, Iraq’s electoral system is designed to weather imperfect elections, or at least is durable facing them. Under the current plan, all voters elect the entire legislature, so sectional jealousies are reduced. Delegates aren’t elected from single districts as they are in the United States. That won’t solve every problem that might arise from missing insurgent-controlled regions, but it will certainly help.

We urge the IEC to keep pushing forward with Iraq’s first-ever democratic election and for naysayers to reserve their judgment.

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