Americans vote overseas

Tuesday, February 5, 2008 | 8:05 p.m. CST; updated 10:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

LONDON — Americans seeking a change in foreign policy and a new national image abroad flocked to churches in Rome, town halls in England and an Irish pub in Hong Kong on Tuesday to vote in a Democrats Abroad primary.

The voting will determine who gets the 11 votes allocated to Democrats Abroad at the Democratic National Convention in August. The group is allowing online voting — a first for voters overseas — that will continue for one week.

Porchester Hall in central London was jammed with high-spirited voters Tuesday evening as rival groups backing Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama chanted and waved banners for their candidates.

Republicans, meanwhile, made their Super Tuesday choices known through absentee ballots and predicted their party would unite behind whomever is nominated and keep control of the White House.

Most Democrats abroad focused on the razor’s edge contest between Clinton and Obama.

“I’m voting for Hillary. I’d like to see a woman in the White House,” said Alison Kurke, who was first in line to vote at the American Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s in Rome. “I think she can hit the ground running. She’s got the experience, she’s got the brains.”

But James McGuire, a 24-year-old Web site developer from Massachusetts who traveled to Rome from the Umbrian town of Orvieto, favored Obama.

“I think it’s one of the most important in years,” he said of the 2008 election. “If we do not get Barack Obama in the presidency, then we will have two families for over 20 years in the American political system. And I think that’s unacceptable.”

Americans voting overseas on Super Tuesday said they were particularly influenced by the candidates’ foreign policy credentials. Democrats said they wanted a president who would steer the U.S. away from the Bush administration’s foreign policies, which have alienated many allies.

“We need a dramatic change in tone and tenor, and we need someone who truly, genuinely understands other cultures and can project that to the world,” said Clifford Aron, 50, a businessman from Brooklyn who lives in Warsaw, Poland.

Turnout for the Democrats Abroad primary was expected to be high and results will be announced later this month.

Robert Bell of Democrats Abroad in Canada said he voted online. He expects a record turnout in Canada, in part because of the online option. He said an independent company is managing the online vote.

“It’s quite secure,” Bell said. “Each participant who is on our database is given a random number with which they can access this third party site and then they have to sign in with the particular information that they would know, so I feel it’s quite secure.”

Because of unreliable mail service in certain countries, many Democrats were excited about using the Internet to be sure their vote would be counted, said Christine Schon Marques, the International Chair of Democrats Abroad.

Daniel Wolf, a composer from California who has lived in Germany and Hungary since 1989, said voting online was a “real success” for him after years of difficulties with absentee ballots.

Wolf said he often had trouble getting his ballot in for elections, including in 2000 when his ballot didn’t arrived in Budapest at all, despite phone calls to his voter registrar.

“It’s clear and fast and you can print out a hard copy of your ballot,” Wolf said in an e-mail to The Associated Press from Frankfurt.

Voters who cast their ballot online went to the Web site by Jan. 31 to request an online ballot. There, information such as the voter’s former stateside address was requested. Once authenticated, the voter received a pin or ballot number.

Harvey Manning, a New York city native who has lived in Canada since 1985, said he found the process to be easy to use and secure.

“When the ballot appeared I clicked the box for the one I voted for and printed it out. That was it,” he said.

But Mary Wilson, president of the League of Women Voters, warned that the new system could lead to confusion in the general elections when online voting is not an option.

“They’re creating this new system for voting in the primaries outside of the system that will be used in the general election,” said Wilson. She said voters must not forget they need to fill out absentee ballots for the general election.

Republicans Abroad did not have live or online voting. Republicans Abroad U.K. Chairman Miki Bowman conceded the Democrats seem more energized now, but predicted this would change after the candidates are chosen.

“I think our candidates are much less polarizing than the Democratic candidates, and we’re confident whomever gets nominated has the likelihood of winning the presidency,” she said.

Mary Jo Jacobi, a longtime Londoner and former adviser to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, predicted the GOP would get a lift if Clinton is nominated.

U.S. voters who want to vote in the primaries of their home states may do so by absentee ballot, with the deadline for voting varying from state to state. For most Super Tuesday primary states, the deadline was Tuesday.

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