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Satellite Voting Kicks Off at the Islamic Center

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CEDAR RAPIDS Some Linn County voters are likely saying a few prayers about the gambling decision they're facing.

On Saturday, however, a steady flow of voters walked through the doors of the Islamic Center, not to pray but to vote. They said they didn't need to wait until the March 5 referendum to make up their minds.

The Islamic Center was the first satellite voting location to open for the special election.

"People who want to organize and get people out to vote sometimes petition us for satellite locations and all it takes is 100 signatures to designate a place as a satellite voting place before the election," said Linn County Auditor Joel Miller. "That's what some people did here at the Islamic Center."

The center was the only congregation to petition to become a satellite voting location. Back in 2003, when Linn County faced a similar gambling vote, three churches made the request.

Everyone had their own reason for stopping by the Islamic Center to cast a ballot. Cynthia Gardner voted in favor of the new casino, and she said her mother inspired her decision.

"I actually voted 'no' last time and in the years intervening, I've gone with my mother," Gardner said. "It's a place where she can go and feel safe."

Dozens of members of the Muslim community also showed up to vote. They felt comfortable at their own worship center.

Yehya Abdullah said the congregation would never persuade anyone to vote a certain way. For them, however, gambling is strictly forbidden.

"I think you are going to get more Muslims turning out to vote and because of that, you'll get more of a negative vote on the casino," Abdullah said.

According to Miller, any place of worship can petition to become a satellite voting location, whatever their beliefs may be. Miller says in 2003, the auditor's office allowed satellite voting after the main weekly service. That's a big change this time around because he believes that crosses the line.

"I don't know what a worship leader is going to say during the service, and I don't think it would be appropriate to have someone take a particular stand on an issue, or if there were other candidates on the ballot," Miller said. "That's just not appropriate way to do things."

The main day of worship at the Islamic Center is Friday, which is why Miller said Saturday worked for the early voting.

Overall, election workers cited a good, steady voter turnout at the first satellite location.

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