Noncitizen Campaign Workers

by Peter Spiro

Over at the excellent polls/politics site FiveThirtyEight, Sean Quinn describes an Obama volunteer working doors in Virginia:

Back in Charlottesville, we encountered Alex Englehard, a German from Heidelberg pursuing his legal degree and on break after his fifth-year exams. Englehard, a dedicated full-time Obama volunteer, said many Americans “don’t realize how big an impact this one election has on the rest of the world.”

He reported getting a few scattered complaints that a foreign citizen would get involved in American elections, but that they all came from people who told him they were supporting McCain. Nobody brought it up the day we tagged along.

There’s no law against noncitizens working for political campaigns, and that presents a channel for noncitizen influence even though they lack the franchise.  This example is unusual; he’s not even a resident.  I wonder how many foreigners are working for campaigns this year.

One Response

  1. Great story.  For what it’s worth, back in 1993 I campaigned for a member of the New Japan (Nihon Shinto) party, Takashi Yamamoto, in his successful election to the Japanese Diet’s House of Representatives (he was later elected to the House of Councillors before passing away a little less than a year ago).  I’d known Takashi for 5 years at that point, having lived with him and his family while I was an exchange student during high school.  So, when he announced he was running for the Diet during my post 1L summer in Japan, I jumped at the chance to see Japanese politics up-close.  Given our personal connection I had no qualms about supporting him, and as a graduate/law student saw this as a great opportunity to see Japanese politics from the inside in a way few foreigners ever do.  Aside from the fact that the election cycles there are a few, short weeks long, it was wild to be part of what at the time was Japan’s first “change” election, unseating the LDP (temporarily) from its decades-long hold on the Japanese government.  Needless to say, my participation in Takashi’s campaign (handing out flyers, attending events, even making some very limited speeches in Japanese) garned attention since I was a hard-to-miss gaikokujin (foreigner).  I remember giving several interviews in Japanese similar to the one Peter highlights, although I don’t remember ever tracking down the actual stories themselves to see the spin given my role.  Still, for a culture that’s remarkably insular, I was suprised at how open (at least on the surface) Japanese people were to my participating in the campaign.   I wonder though whether Americans will take the same view in response to stories such as these (I suspect, as in most things, the response will be mixed).

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