Hamid Al-Hakeem did not cast a historic ballot in this week's Iraqi parliamentary election for himself, or even for the slate of leaders he supported.
He said he voted to honor his brothers, who disappeared in Iraq more than 20 years ago.
Al-Hakeem is one of an estimated 20,000 expatriate Iraqis living in California, many of whom will vote here this week in the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place Thursday in Iraq.
The 62-year-old retired gas company executive from Laguna Beach brought his American-born son, David, 35, to the polls at the Fairplex in Pomona on Tuesday.
Overcome with emotion, the father and his son voted in memory of Al-Hakeem's two brothers, who were arrested in 1980 for refusing to join Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. They were never heard from again, Al-Hakeem said.
Five years later, he added, relatives discovered that the teacher and doctor had been killed to make room for other prisoners in the jail.
"For [Iraqi] people to not be able to fear a regime, to say what they think, to be critical of a government -- I never thought it would happen in my lifetime," said Al-Hakeem, who has lived in the United States for 43 years.
The Al-Hakeems were among dozens of expatriate Iraqi families, couples and individuals to pass through a metal detector at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds to help elect Iraq's 275-seat parliament.
This is the second time this year that Iraqis abroad have voted in their homeland's democratic elections: In January, voters elected a transitional government to draft the nation's constitution; now voters will select a national assembly for a four-year term.
In Pomona, one of three voting sites in California, 34 bilingual poll workers wearing white armbands of the nonpartisan Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, checked voters' proof of Iraqi citizenship and stamped ballots with official seals. In an effort to prevent participants from voting twice, they also stained voters' index fingers with purple ink.
As each voter dropped the complicated blue and white Arabic ballot into giant sealed, clear plastic boxes, volunteers and fellow voters broke into applause.
"Now the dream is fact," said David Yousif, California spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, on what the three-day voting period means to Iraqis in America. He declined to estimate how many Iraqis in Southern California might vote.
Voting places in the state include Pomona, El Cajon and Pleasanton in the Bay Area. Voting ends at 9 p.m. Thursday.
Pomona police officers and fair security personnel reported no disturbances by Tuesday afternoon.
Iraqis in 15 countries outside Iraq will cast ballots. There are seven sites nationwide, including Detroit, Skokie, Ill., McLean, Va., and Nashville.
Tahir Al-Sebahi drove 24 hours from his home in Euless, Texas, with his wife and two small children for the historic occasion.
"I'm really, really happy," said Al-Sebahi, 39, who runs an auto repair shop. "It's going to be like a new country. No terrorists. New president. New people," Al-Sebahi said, recalling police questioning and detaining his wife, Antesir Hassan, during the years she stayed in Iraq while he worked in the United States.
Al-Sebahi brought a video camera so his 5-year-old son, Ali, and 3-year-old daughter, Shahed, could remember the moment.
"I love it," he said of his purple-tipped finger. "I want it to stay like this for one year."
Hamid Sayadi trekked from Henderson, Nev., to back Kurdish candidates, in the hopes of fulfilling his dream for an independent Kurdish state. But when he arrived at the registration table, the 50-year-old mechanic realized he had brought his late mother's passport instead of his.
The former intelligence officer in the Kurdish rebel army didn't hesitate: Sayadi planned to jump back in his car and make the 3 1/2 hour drive back to Pomona today.
"I am a Kurd," he said, describing how 23 of his relatives had disappeared under the Hussein regime and his mother had escaped a gas attack by sliding down a snowy mountain on her suitcase and crossing the border into Iran.
"We need to get our voice heard."
Maha Yahya shared a similar joy: "I feel like a new person after all these years of suffering," said the 41-year-old San Dimas mother of four who voted for the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance.
"It's about time," said Yahya, who has lived in exile from Iraq for 23 years. "The simplest right is to choose your government."