The World Votes for Obama

by Peter Spiro

Well, sort of. Obama has racked up another impressive primary victory, this time among Democrats living abroad. The contest was held between February 5 and 12, and included Internet voting in addition to the more conventional mail balloting. Otherwise it’s not a new phenomenon – Democrats Abroad has been holding primaries since 1976.

Two things that are interesting about this go-round. First is the low turnout – only 20,000 participated. There are an estimated six million US citizens living abroad, many of whom must have been eligible to vote. If the the Obama-Clinton duel can’t get them to click through (albeit not at home), what will? That may evidence a low level of connection between the citizen diaspora and the homeland. Or it may just evidence low interest in voting. Nonresident US citizens appear now to be considered a significant donor population; they may be voting with their dollars euros rather than ballots.

Secondly, many of those who did vote, or give money, are dual citizens (the Sports Minister of Italy among them). I don’t have a problem with that, and I don’t think others should, either. But it does support the tag line above, in some small way. In this primary — and then in the general election itself in November — citizens of many other countries will be casting votes for the President of the United States.

3 Responses

  1. Americans living outside the country can vote absentee in the state in which they last resided. So the low turnout probably just indicates that most Americans abroad prefer to vote absentee in their home state rather than in the Democrats Abroad primary. Rather than a lack of connection to the US, the low participation in the Dems Abroad primary probably indicates stronger attachment to the state in which we are accustomed to voting than to the Democrats Abroad organization and its primary. (I live in Canada, and chose to vote absentee in Pennsylvania rather than in the Democrats Abroad primary.)

  2. Michael, This is a very interesting element of the process of which I hadn’t been aware, so thanks for the comment. External voting schemes generally aloow nonresident citizens to vote either in their jurisdiction of last residence or as part of nonresident district. Italy is a good example of the latter – Italians abroad send some number of representatives to the legislature. For federal elections the US operates on the latter principle.

    What makes the Democrat primary system interesting, then, is that it gives voters the choice, and it seems that they prefer to vote with their stae of former residence. Why that’s so, I’m not sure. It may be a sense of connection, which would especially be the case among those who are only temporarily absent from the US. But among long-term nonresidents, would that necessarily be the case?

    There would also be the perception of how to make your vote count for the most. For primaries, that might depend on what state is the state of last residence — California might make you want to vote as a Californian where Florida (this time around at least) as a Democrat Abroad. (If you’re from a caucus state, you’d also go that way, since there isn’t any absentee balloting in those states.) Finally, there is the discrete identity and interests of Americans abroad on such issues as nonresident taxes, which would one would think push voters into the global primary.

    In any case, thanks again for bringing this to my attention.

  3. Peter,

    I suspect people choose to vote absentee in their states rather than in the Democrats Abroad primary largely out of habit. To vote in federal elections other than Presidential primaries (ie, midterm primaries, and all general elections) we have to request absentee ballots. So we’re used to that, and vote the way we are accustomed to.

    Also, a lot of people don’t know about the option to vote in the Democrats Abroad primary.

    I think you’re right about calculations about making your vote count, and the caucus issue. On nonresident taxes, in particular, that might differ for countries that do and don’t have tax treaties with the US.

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