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Published March 09 2010

Learning from Iraq: Fargo legislator soaks in pride after observing vote

A Fargo legislator says she feels somewhat cynical about Americans’ apathy toward their right to vote after observing the pride Iraqis felt Sunday on their Election Day.

“I’m sitting here in amazement, and I find myself getting slightly cynical,” Bette Grande said Monday in a telephone interview from Baghdad. “It begs the question after this, why our voter turnout is less than 50 percent, whereas here they understand the significance enough to put life and limb on the line?”

Grande recounted Monday her experiences as an international observer during Sunday’s national election in Iraq. The Republican state representative was one of nine women nationwide chosen by the National Foundation for Women Legislators to comprise a special delegation, in conjunction with the State Department, that oversaw the election.

Leading up to Sunday, Grande met with candidates and served as a role model to women politicians.

“They were so excited that we were there,” Grande said of the candidates. “They would say, ‘Your presence here shows that our elections are legitimate.’ To them, it was this big deal that they were going to show the world that they were doing an open and fair election.”

Donning body armor and helmets for safety, Grande and the delegation were escorted by a U.S. security detail as they traveled to different polling sites in Baghdad on Sunday.

Early in the day, several terrorist attacks struck throughout the country, seeking to intimidate citizens against voting. The Associated Press reported 36 people were killed.

Grande said the unrest was expected, but she was amazed with the defiant spirit of the Iraqi people.

“These families and these people that came out to vote – when we would interview them when they were done, they all talked about how ‘there will be no terrorism that keeps us home. We are willing to die for this,’ ” Grande said.

Grande described parents bringing their excited children to the polls, all wearing suits and dresses for the national holiday and anxious to take part in the political process.

One of her first observations, Grande recalled, was seeing a young boy about 6 years old dressed in a suit and proudly waving an Iraqi flag as he walked with his grandfather to the polls.

“It was pure joy and pride,” Grande said. “It was so moving. The stories are just wonderful.”

Grande encourages Americans to take note of the Iraq election and use their own right to vote.

“We won’t vote if we’re not interested, if it’s rainy or if we have to wait in line for a half-hour,” she said. “It saddens me to think that we have that much cynicism. We should be looking to them as an example.”

A delegation of former members of Congress joined the delegation from the National Foundation for Women Legislators in Iraq. They were the only two U.S. groups invited to oversee the election.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541