SYDNEY — Bernie Sanders won considerable support from Americans living overseas the last time he ran for president. Now, 2020 Democratic rivals want to prevent a repeat.
Democrats Abroad is among the more politically potent, if lesser-known entities set to vote in the 2020 primary process, on Super Tuesday, March 3. With candidates rarely traveling their way, American voters overseas often are in the shadows of mega-prizes such as California and Texas, along with several medium-sized states such as Arkansas and Alabama.
In 2016, the Vermont senator trounced Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the foreign-based vote, though she eventually nabbed the nomination. Sanders, 78, earned 69% of votes cast. Clinton, 72, the former first lady, senator, and secretary of state, received 31%.
The Democrats Abroad win netted Sanders nine delegates, noted John Eastwood, a lawyer from North Carolina who has lived in Taiwan for almost two decades.
“The Sanders campaign was very good about providing information to overseas Americans about how to get involved and how to vote in the Democrats Abroad global primary, and that attention to detail really paid off,” said Eastwood, 50, who liaised with the competing camps in 2016.
“Bernie personally recorded a video that explained in detail exactly how to register as a Dems Abroad member, how to locate polling places, and how to cast ballots in the global primary,” Eastwood said. “I couldn’t even get the Clinton campaign to tweet a photo of her holding a ‘I Democrats Abroad #GlobalPrimary’ sign.”
In 2020, Democrats overseas will cast ballots in person at more than a hundred voting centers around the world for a week, beginning March 3 — just as voters in prized California and Texas go to the polls. The results for Democrats Abroad’s global primary, which is projected to include 650,000 people also via mail, fax, and email, will then be revealed on March 23.
Though about 9 million U.S. citizens live outside the country’s borders, 7 million of whom are eligible to vote, some Democrats are warning the 2020 candidates not to forget the foreign-based electorate as they try to build momentum for their White House bids next spring, particularly as turnout increased between 2008 and 2016 by 50%.
Ahead of 2020, Democrats Abroad has so far hosted online town halls with Sanders; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Obama administration Housing Secretary Julian Castro; and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, according to Eastwood. The group had additionally asked the contenders to answer a questionnaire responding to inquiries from its members.
While Democrats Abroad has expanded its volunteer-led presence to more than 190 countries since its inception in the 1960s, the organization operates differently from its Republican counterpart. That’s because it is considered to be the equivalent of a state party, is represented within the Democratic National Committee, and has dispatched a voting delegation to the Democratic National Convention since 1976.
Visibility, however, is still a problem, according to Martha McDevitt-Pugh, a business consultant who moved from California to the Netherlands two decades ago to be with her now-wife.
“I don’t think we’re ignored so much as not visible unless we actively show up to speak to our issues with our representatives back in the local districts where we vote,” said McDevitt-Pugh, 61.
Kent Getsinger, 39, became Democrats Abroad Australia’s chairman after moving from Kentucky in 2011. The university communications coordinator believed other voters were motivated by gun control, healthcare, and climate change.
Political analyst Paul Henderson, a former San Francisco deputy mayor, said voters overseas are concerned about the majority who live domestically, including taxes. Americans citizens in other countries sometimes have to pay additional taxation. Sanders and Buttigieg, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, had all unveiled tax plans, he noted.
Although polling has yet to be conducted into the field’s standing abroad, Connie Borde, 78, a university-level English teacher from Boston, thought Buttigieg was doing well — at least in France, where she has been based for the last half-century.
“The most popular candidate over here is Mayor Pete, followed by Bernie and Elizabeth Warren,” the DNC member said. “I’d take anyone over what we’ve got.”
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