Super Tuesday in the USA is almost upon us, where a major step will be taken in the process of choosing the next President of that nation. The result will affect us all, not least in regards to the successful candidate’s foreign/military policy and the approach towards climate change.
Opinion polls (which have had a rather sketchy record in this contest) suggest the contest for the Democratic nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could be incredibly close. The system for the presidential primaries and for the Presidential election itself is enormously different to what applies in Australia. In some ways, it is immensely more democratic than ours, yet in other ways it is so ramshackle outdated and partisan as to barely justify using the term ‘democratic’ at all.
I wrote last month about a new component of the process for determining the Democrat presidential nominee. For the first time, US citizens living abroad will be voting directly for delegates to the Democratic party convention that determines the nominee. These ‘diaspora delegates’ will only a tiny component of the 4049 delegates who will be voting at the Democrats’ convention. I’m fairly sure there are 22 delegates allocated to ‘Democrats Abroad’, although this page on the New York Times site seems to suggest it is only 11. The official page for the Democratic National Convention lists the number of delegates at 22, but the number of delegate votes at 11 – quite what that means I’m not sure, but either way its not a lot in the scheme of things.
Still, given how tight the race is shaping up to be, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that those delegates could prove decisive. As I’ve mentioned before, the few seats elected by expatriate Italians proved crucial to the final Senate outcome in their last election, which was the first time such a system applied.
Given the possible tightness of the race, it is also worth noting that even the usually forgotten voters in Territories of the USA, such as American Samoa (12 delegates), Guam (11 delegates), Puerto Rico (58 delegates) and the Virgin Islands (12 delegates) could play a pivotal role.
This piece in The Huffington Post expresses concern about the potential risks of these expatriate voters using the internet to cast their votes. I can understand the apprehension about electronic means of recording votes, particularly the high level of partisanship in the administration of elections in the USA. However, whilst everything should be done to prevent fraud or stuff-ups, I think we should be encouraging participation through whatever means possible, as long as it is dependable and safe.
Given the wide range of dodgy and inconsistent voting laws and procedures in the USA, it is understandable that there is a concern that internet voting might be added to the list. But that’s an argument for fixing up the undemocratic, outdated and partisan elements in the electoral laws and processes, not stopping overseas participation.
I’ll also use this opportunity to again make the call for more consideration to be given for expatriates to have direct representation in Australia, or at least to be more easily able to remain on the electoral roll in an Australian based electorate.
UPDATE (23/2): The final results of the Democrats Abroad ballot have come in, with Oboma defeating Clinton by a margin of around two to one. This article gives more detail, including a mention of a vote being cast from Antarctica via the internet. In another example of the delegate distribution process I find quite perplexing, this result gives Obama 2.5 delegates and Clinton 2 delegates, with another 2.5 delegates to be decided at a Democrats Abroad convention in Canada in April (which I can only presume will be influenced by Obama’s strong win in the ballot). The other 4 Democrats Abroad delegates are so-called ‘super-delegates’, who can support either candidate as they wish, but may also be influenced by the actual ballot result.
More details on the results are at the Democrats Abroad website. I couldn’t find what the total number of votes cast was, only percentages (although the raw numbers are probably in there somewhere). It reports that the Asia-Pacific region (which I assume includes Australia) was even stronger for Obama, at 72.6%. It also notes that 44 per cent of ballots were cast online.