Three earnest Obama volunteers sit at a folding table stacked high with voter registration forms. People walk by and smile when they see the “Change We Can Believe In” signs. Most of them cannot register to vote, however, as they are not American citizens. This bustling main street is in Berlin, Germany.
International Voter Registration has caught on in a big way among Obama supporters, with good reason. There are an estimated 6 million registered Democrats living outside the United States. In 2004 only 1 million Americans total requested international absentee ballots.
Democrats Abroad has launched a website called votefromabroad.org, an interactive tool that guides users through the process of registering to vote and requesting an international absentee ballot. American actress Gwyneth Paltrow, herself an expatriate living in London, appeared in an online ad for the site that debuted on August 4.
Within 24 hours, votefromabroad.org had registered voters from 87 different countries and 45 states. A group called Democrats Abroad for Obama proclaimed August 9 to be “International Voter Registration day.”
Frustrated with the Bush administration, increasing numbers of Democrats living internationally are exercising their right to vote — a right many only recently learned they possess.
Miriam Volkmann, an American citizen who has lived abroad for over 30 years, did not know she was eligible to vote until she became active in the anti-war movement. She is now volunteering for Obama.
Paltrow’s ad will only be available online, as there is no one foreign concentration of U.S. citizens large enough to warrant the purchase of television airtime. Thus, on August 9 volunteers around the world hit the streets looking for unregistered Americans.
OBAMA’S SUPPORTERS in London marked the day with a so-called International Search Party.
Over 45,0000 Americans make their home in the British capital. So volunteers canvassed the streets, listening for people who say “poh-tay-toh” instead of “poh-tah-toh.” They had been advised to visit parks and look for groups playing American football. In the run up to November 4, Democrats in London will set up phone banks where UK-based volunteers can call Americans and urge them to go vote.
Democrats in Berlin had gotten off to a running start thanks to Obama’s speech here last month. According to official figures, there are around 13,000 Americans living in Berlin. Some estimates put that number closer to 20,000. But how to find them?
On International Voter Registration Day, Obama volunteers braved chilly winds and overcast skies to set up tables in four different locations across the city. Around 30 volunteers worked 3-hour shifts, and their efforts resulted in a total of 33 new registrations.
Generally, one volunteer sat at the table to register people while two others walked through the surrounding neighborhoods, listening for the strains of American English. A volunteer muttered “this is ridiculous” as she eavesdropped on conversations in an open-air market.
One of the tables was set up at Belluno’s Italian Cafe, but a whole morning passed without the discovery of a single unregistered American. At one point, a man speaking perfect English with a slight California lilt approached the table. He was a German citizen who had lived in the US for many years and wanted to recommend some popular American expat hangouts.
The volunteers hoped to find a high concentration of Americans at the German-American Folk Festival. They set up a registration table across from a red, white, and blue bingo tent covered in pictures of Uncle Sam and a life-size cutout of Samuel Adams holding up a pint of his beer.
The German-American Folk Festival is essentially a fair like the ones found all over the US. Each year the festival showcases the culture of a different American state. This year it was Massachusetts, and event staff sported shirts with the slogan “Indian Summer in Berlin.”
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H/T to National Review Online