Saturday, August 07, 2004

Mobilizing American voters in Germany

Voter advocacy groups call on American citizens living abroad to register for U.S. presidential election

By Tyler Sitte

Get out and Vote!“ proclaims a sign propped up outside the Turm-Palast movie theater in Frankfurt. White letters on a red sign, an American flag clearly visible in the background. Volunteers from Americans Overseas for Kerry and Democrats Abroad hurry back and forth, asking everyone coming to the German debut of Michael Moore's film “Fahrenheit 9/11“ if they are an American citizen and if they've had an opportunity to register to vote.

Their call, temporarily focused on a group of Friday-night movie-goers, is part of a much broader effort directed not only at the roughly 3,700 Americans who call Frankfurt their - at least temporary - home, but at the close to 250,000 U.S. citizens living in Germany. With the presidential election in November expected to be one of the closest contests in the country's history, voter registration advocates from the United States' two major political parties maintain that absentee votes may be critical to the outcome. Germany, with the fourth-largest U.S. community outside the United States, may play a key role.

Mindful of the estimated 4 million to 6 million U.S. citizens living abroad, Mitch Wolfson, the German coordinator for Americans Overseas for Kerry calls the foreign vote a potential “key to the 2004 election.“ Yet Wolfson, like many other voting registration advocates, stresses that it is difficult to get accurate figures on the total number of Americans who now call a country other than the United States home. With no census information collected for these citizens, numbers are bantered about wildly. But, even if the numbers are on the lower side of this estimate, winning millions of potential foreign voters, many of whom haven't voted for years, may be a wild card that either presidential candidate could use.

Thus, volunteers from the Democratic and Republican parties have taken to the streets, perched themselves outside of places likely to be frequented by Americans and started letter campaigns in an effort to gain more registered voters and extra votes that may make all the difference. Their efforts have not been in vain.

Voting advocacy groups cite increasing numbers of U.S. citizens that have been prompted to register, claiming that with a growing resentment against American foreign policy, voters have realized that what happens in the United States can have a large influence on how Americans are treated abroad. Both Democrats and Republicans believe that this anti-American sentiment might play in their favor. Republicans who claim to have a 3-to-1 dominance of the foreign vote, expect a backlash against anti-Bush fervor to attract new members to the GOP. Democrats believe that disapproval of Bush's leadership will make its way into a wave of disapproving absentee ballots.

The hard fought 2000 Gore/Bush election is still in the minds of many Democratic party volunteers. However, many believe that things may play out differently this time. “Unlike in previous elections,“ says Democrats Abroad Frankfurt chairwoman Susan Haug remembering the tight presidential race in Florida four years ago, “changes in U.S. voting laws will guarantee that for the first time absentee ballots for Americans abroad are actually counted in the national election.“

“But it is not just the presidential election that is at stake,“ said Ronald Schlundt, chairman of Democrats Abroad Germany. “There are also 33 Senate seats at stake and every state in the country is electing House members. It may be a close race in many states.“

(click on the title for the whole article)

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