Many of us who watch American politics are closely following the Democratic primary currently being contested, eagerly waiting to see which candidate will take on the task of defeating Donald Trump in the US general election this November.
Regardless of the election’s global significance, non-US citizens living in Czechia (full disclosure, I’m Canadian) can only sit back and watch as Americans choose the next leader of the ‘free world’. But that’s not the case for Americans living here. Not only are US citizens living overseas able to vote in all the various US elections, when it comes to Democrats, they are also able to participate in the exciting primary process.
Next week, those Americans will get their chance to go to the polls as part the Global Democrats Abroad Primary, which is held alongside 15 other state primaries on Super Tuesday—a day that usually decides the Democrats’ nominee. The primary will send 21 delegates to the DNC convention in Milwaukee. Delegates are awarded proportionally, and a candidate must reach 15% of the vote to get any Democrats Abroad delegates.
The big question is, will the Americans actually come out to vote?
AMERICANS OVERSEAS DON’T VOTE MUCH
In 2016, of the roughly 9,000 Americans currently living in the Czech Republic, only 502 participated in the global democratic primary—a vote that overwhelmingly favored the current frontrunner Bernie Sanders (403 votes compared to 99 for Hilary Clinton), reflecting the worldwide primary vote that saw Sanders win with 69 percent of the vote to Clinton’s 31 percent.
And it’s not just a Czech thing. Low turnout is a trend in overseas US voting regardless of country or party. According to a Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) survey there were 3 million US citizens of voting age living abroad in 2016 but voter turnout was just 7 percent. That’s in comparison to a domestic turnout of 72 percent. Yikes! Some of that is attributable to obstacles voters face when living abroad, but the same survey ‘showed that greater than 9 in 10 overseas citizens who requested and received an absentee ballot did cast that ballot in the 2016 election’—so it’s not as if it’s an impossible task.
To give you an idea of the size of the overseas vote, they are on par with large states such as South Carolina and Colorado in terms of their possible influence on the electoral college. And while the pledged delegate count in the primary is not that high, the fact that so few people vote from overseas makes the weight of a primary vote without comparison on a per vote basis. According to Geoff Engel Klimko, the Democrats Abroad chair in the Czech Republic, this difference can make a vote over four times more powerful than if it were cast domestically.
It’s also important. Consider this. It was the overseas vote that swung the 2000 presidential election towards George W. Bush in Florida. Moreover, had Florida abided by the 26th of November deadline for ballots from overseas, the contest would have gone to Al Gore by 202 votes.
HOW TO VOTE
This year’s primary will be held in the Czech Republic at the Globe Bookshop in Prague, Tuesday, March 3 at 2:00 PM and on Saturday, March 7th at 11:00 AM. Voters who aren’t able to make these times or live outside of Prague can still participate by downloading their ballots directly from the Democrats Abroad website and emailing, posting, of even faxing them prior to the March 10th deadline.
If you’re an American and would like to cast a ballot, voters must be members of Democrats Abroad to vote but registration is available online at www.democratsabroad.org/join any time. Registration can also be done during the primary at their Voting Center in person at the Globe. All you need to do is fill out a form online and sign an affidavit stating you are a US citizen. No other documents are required to register.
Klimko notes, ‘Voters must reside outside the US, must be 18 years old by 3 November 2020, and cannot vote in their home presidential primary. They can vote in their home primary for other down-ballot candidates like congresspeople, just not for president if they plan to vote in the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary.’
Note that registering for the primary does not register a citizen to vote in November. Voters living abroad must request a ballot each year they intend to vote. Americans can register to do so (or request their ballot if they’re already registered) at www.votefromabroad.org.