Expat Americans’ role in deciding the USA Democrat nomination. UPDATED

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 In some ways, it is immensely more democratic than ours, yet in other ways it is so ramshackle outdated and partisan as to barely justify using the term ‘democratic’ at all.

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.

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  1. It’s today! I’m quite excited. Regarding the number of delegates: apparently, there are 22 delegates allocated to Democrats Abroad, of which 8 will be DNC representatives, leaving 14 to be determined by election.

    A friend of mine who works in IT security thinks that the online voting site is doomed. I hope he’s wrong. I’m going to give the online vote a try today – but just in case it doesn’t work for some reason, my passport is in my pocket and the polling place is open until 10:30pm. Hooray for voting!

  2. Andrew:
    The race gets more interesting. Hillary with the 2 major states and Obama taking the rest of the minors (Super Tuesday). Cant imagine these two agreeing to running partners, so let the blood letting begin.
    The only thing the democrats have going for them is the disunity in the republican camp,


  3. Oh I don’t know, Tony, they seem to be either genuinely or for post-primary purposes, putting together a front (which may be only perception) of dragging the campigns back to a more edifying level … as far as I can see the below-the-belt remarks have stopped, judging by various sources such as newspapaers, what I see on TV here and what I notice on the Net discussion groups, where the snide comments about whether Obama is ‘really’ a muslim in disguise seem to have abated somewhat. No doubt those and worse will return when/if the Presidential campaign includes Obama as a VP or Presidential candidate. We think politics is nasty here- what they do over there is a thousand times worse.

  4. Andrew, Democrats Abroad Australia ran voting centres in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as promoting the online system. We had an excellent turnout, and our participation rate with the online voting was also highly satisfactory. We’ve also been part of the pioneering effort Vote from Abroad, that allows U.S. citizens to register for an absentee ballot in their home state, which has also been very successful. But Democrats Abroad’s status at the national convention isn’t new. We’ve been caucusing for years and sending delegates. No one’s being ‘forced’ to trust their vote to an untrustworthy system.

    While some of Mr. Dill’s fears may be on their face reasonable, he doesn’t, in his proposed alternatives, present much better than the present system, one that is confusing for many, particularly in that each State has it’s own requirements, often very different from one another. Giving expatriate citizens their own delegates has significant merit, especially because their right to vote has previously been under attack, as has their taxation status.

  5. I’ve added an update at the bottom of the main post which details the result of this ballot. Like every other ballot in recent times, it has provided another strong win for Barack Obama.

  6. The thing is, all votes cast by americans overseas will be thrown in the circular filing cabinet. Read “armed Madhouse” by Greg Palast. Anyway, the old joke about the russians only having one party to vote for holds true for elections in America. Washington DC is a get rich quick number. Why do you think politicians spend millions to become president? So they can make a few hundred thousand a year, or so they can help the nation?

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