It’s not just Ohio and Florida gearing up for a big day of polling; American expats in Australia are campaigning, voting, and preparing to party on election day. Crikey intern Yolanda Redrup investigates.
US Democrats living in Australia are busy campaigning for Obama’s victory, but the Republican camp is struggling to connect with expat voters — partly because they don’t have a list of registered Republicans living here.
The Australian branch of Democrats Abroad, an official part of the Democratic Party, is encouraging expats in Australia to keep Obama in office for another term. Democrats Abroad members have been doing the rounds, calling Americans across Australia to encourage them to vote, and handing out badges and t-shirts.
But Republicans Abroad Australia is confined to using Facebook as its main method of communication. Crikey spoketo the group’s chair Charles Fournier, who says because the organisation is legally and structurally independent of the official Republican Party campaigning efforts are difficult.
“We don’t have the same granularity as to our understanding of our members because we’re not a membership organisation like Democrats Abroad is. Because we don’t have a database, we must use our Facebook pages to communicate,” Fournier said.
There are over 100,000 eligible Americans in Australia at any given time, according to Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures, including 84,000 permanent residents. But there is no central database of overseas voters, making campaigning difficult for international political organisations.
Americans voting overseas can cast an absentee ballot and be officially registered to vote in their last US state of residence. How voting forms are distributed and collected varies between US states, but methods include electronic submission, mailing and faxing. The final date to apply to be an absentee voter also differs between US states, with the majority stating one week before the election as the deadline. Votes must be cast either the day before or day of the election, depending on the state.
Fournier says of Americans living in Australia, most are Democrats. ”It really depends on location, but it tends to be that permanent residents living in Australia tend to be more Democratic, but the fly-in-fly-out crowd tend to be more Republican,” he said.
Democratic voters cited issues such as women’s reproductive rights, building an affordable health care system and greater foreign policy experience as decision-making factors. On the Democrats Abroad Australia Facebook page, they have been encouraging women to vote and view the “You Don’t Own Me” YouTube video, a message to Romney and VP candidate Paul Ryan about women’s reproductive rights.
Cassidy Knowlton is the former president of the Victorian branch of Democrats Abroad and has been a lifelong supporter. ”I think Obama is better for healthcare, he’s better for the economy, he’s better for foreign policy,” she said to Crikey.
Fournier unsurprisingly disagrees, saying he voted for Romney because he will lead America out of economic crisis and lower unemployment. ”The one big thing is financial sustainability,” he said. “When we look at what’s happening now, it’s obvious that we’re in a place where we won’t be able to provide for our children.”
The Republicans Abroad South Australia and New South Wales Facebook pages have been fighting against the Democratic portrayal of Romney as out-of-touch with everyday Americans, posting an album of family photos titled “Just Another Family”. In contrast to the Democrats Abroad page, which is centered around garnering votes, the Republicans Abroad Facebook pages are focused on encouraging people to donate money to the Romney campaign.
The page has posts such as: ”Obama Chicago team is currently attempting to spin Mitt’s momentum as a statistical anomaly. But fundraising numbers are no anomaly. Donate now! $25, $250 or $2,500.”; ”A beer - $8. A long black - $4.50. A lunch at Mitsumi - $35. Adult entry for the bluegrass journey concert - $55. America’s future - ?”
Matthew Minchin from Swinburne University’s faculty of ICT has been living in Australia for three years and will be voting for Obama, despite being a registered Republican. ”I really don’t like Mitt Romney,” he told Crikey. Kristin Pedroja, an expat since 2001, joins him: ”I feel strongly that Obama best represents us internationally and has more support on the global stage.”
What all Americans Crikey spoke to agree on is absentee ballots can make a big difference, particularly in swing states. Lauren Haumesser of the United States Study Centre in Sydney says it’s incredibly important for Americans overseas to make the effort and vote.
“My vote in California for president probably won’t have as much of an impact as it would if I was in Ohio, a swing state,” Haumesser told Crikey. “But there are a lot of state propositions, such as eliminating the death penalty, that I was able to vote on from abroad.”
US citizens are now preparing to party. The American Chamber of Commerce is organising events in Melbourne and Perth. Democrats Abroad is holding a big hurrah in Melbourne and Sydney on Wednesday morning (Australian time), with the Democrats inviting everyone to “nail bite, whoop and cheer”.
The US Study Centre is also throwing an election party, with a couple of hundred people expected. But don’t expect to see many real-life Americans. “It’s predominately attended by Australian university students who are just really interested in American politics,” Haumesser said.