Karin J. Robinson is the Vice Chair of Democrats Abroad UK and was the Democratic Party’s Regional Field Director for Americans Abroad in Northern Europe in 2008. She blogs at the Huffington Post and at www.obamalondon.blogspot.com.
With all the attention on next week’s mayoral elections, and the expectations of a disappointing result for voters on the left, perhaps progressives can take comfort in another election that will be taking place in London and across the UK: the vote for Barack Obama here in Britain.
From May 1-6, more than 6 million American voters who live overseas will have their first and only chance to cast a ballot in person for Barack Obama, and to choose the delegates who will represent them at the Democratic Convention in North Carolina.
Why does this matter? Well, first and foremost, this overseas primary will be one of the first tests of Democrats’ ability to bring back the voting coalition that won us our sweeping victories in 2008.
As a Regional Field Director for Americans Abroad at that time, it was my job to increase voting participation from American voters living here in Europe. The Obama campaign understood that Americans living abroad have historically had difficulty voting, and have often been underrepresented at the polls. In 2008, however, we achieved an astonishing 750% increase in our confirmed Democratic vote.
With the resurgence of the American right, and the Republican Party’s worrying efforts to suppress the vote by introducing restrictive new voting laws across the country, it is now more important than ever before that the Democrats are able to bring underrepresented voting groups back to the polls.
The overseas vote can be a secret weapon in this fight, as a large group of voters that not only vote Democrat in record numbers, but who can make a difference in scores of close races, from Virginia to Pennsylvania to Michigan to Florida, because they will cast their November ballots in their home states, and who – moreover – are invisible to pollsters. Democrats living abroad will not show up in any voting projections until the one that counts, on election day.
• The World Outside Westminster – Oh, Carolina 22 Jan 2012
• Mitt Romney wins New Hampshire: Press round-up 11 Jan 2012
Yet the challenge of organising these voters is significant. The 50 states have different rules for voting in federal elections, and although much progress has been made of late in increasing voter access for Americans living abroad, one recent change to the law means that states that were previously required to keep overseas voters on their rolls for two full election cycles now may
require a fresh ballot request each election year.
As such, Democrats Abroad is making a major push for voter registration and ballot requests this year. We’ve tried to make it as easy as possible by creating www.votefromabroad.org – a one stop shop for all overseas registrations and ballot requests.
Here in London on May 1st, we are pulling out all the stops, offering live music, speeches, American flags in abundance, and one simple message: vote here to make a big difference back home.