‘We’re like the 51st State’ say Americans at Presidential Polls in London


The American presidential candidate selection season is well underway, with the field narrowing down to 4 candidates in the Republican contest and just two in the Democrats’ race to the White House.

One of the most experienced US and global politicians in the double-header showdown for the Democratic nomination is Hillary Clinton. To many seasoned observers’ surprise, her opponent for the Democratic ticket is a left wing-inclined Senator for Vermont State – Bernie Sanders.

By choice, the Democratic Party permits Americans abroad to join in the Stateside political fun’n’games by staging what they call a Global Presidential Primary in which any US citizen can cast their vote wherever they are around the world. And that includes London, so we set out to catch this rare opportunity to see American politics first hand on our doorstep here in London.

The Democrats Abroad London primary was held over two voting sessions on 1 and 5 March, and the full force of American democracy was unleashed in Westminster. At the Abbey Centre, just a stone’s throw away from the Palace of Westminster, citizens of another country exercised their democratic rights.


Ballot boxes on stage in the hall. (Copyright: BRIC Plus)

As we arrived at the venue chosen for the vote, a long queue of people snaked through the narrow entrance, and stretched past the corner to surround the entire block.

The Democrats’ Global Presidential Primary was a key part of the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses. There are an estimated 6 million Americans abroad, and over 250,000 living in the UK. The Global Primary allows Democrats living outside of the United States to have their say in the presidential races.

Ballots can be sent by email, fax, post, or in person at voting centres in more than 40 countries. The UK alone has five designated voting centres in London, Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, and St Andrews.

Voting in the Global Primary concluded on 8 March, and the counting begins on 13 March. The final results will be released between 19 – 21 March. The Democrats will hold a Global Convention in Berlin in May to choose 21 delegates – the same as the state of Alaska – to send to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July.


The packed voting hall at the London primary. (Copyright: BRIC Plus)

Robert Ravelli, the chair of Democrats Abroad United Kingdom (DAUK) which hosted the Global Primary in the UK capital, was more than willing to speak to BRIC Plus about the London primary, and its importance as part of the broader presidential primary race.

“The Democratic Party feels that every American living abroad is franchised to vote. We’re like the 51st state. We’re making a difference. We’re doing it from here, casting our vote, and making our preferences known – and it’s going to count. All of the delegates will be pledged based upon the turnout of the Global Primary,” Ravelli told us.

The voters were an interesting mix. Many were students, others parents with children. Some even brought their dogs with them. For an election it seemed a very informal atmosphere. A group of men and women huddled around the entrance eagerly handing out Bernie Sanders promotional material. Just inside the building, those who professed to be ‘Ready For Hillary’ encouraged people to take selfies with a life-sized Hillary Clinton cut-out.


A jazz-band plays as voting gets underway in the hall. (Copyright: BRIC Plus)

Upon entering the voting hall, the informal atmosphere took a turn for the surreal. American flags were everywhere and there was a lively, positive, and even festive environment. A jazz threesome on the stage – the very stage where the three polling boxes (Clinton, Sanders, and ‘Anonymous’) were kept – played a jaunty rousing tune. Bunting, and balloons of red, white, and blue were strewn across the hall.

There were two tables where voters could pick up documentation forms, staffed by a dozen or so volunteers, and four tables provided to fill them. Other tables were laden with free coffee, tea, biscuits, and sandwiches. It felt more like a party or get-together than a solemn diplomatic affair. In some ways, it was. The London vote of the Democrats Abroad primary was a celebration of democracy.

Everyone we spoke to reinforced the idea of a pervasive atmosphere of positivity. William Barnard, a retired university professor and the former chair of DAUK and former international treasurer of Democrats Abroad spoke to BRIC Plus about his experience.

“I’ve been actively involved in Democratic politics for many years. I was a Democrat by inheritance, handing out fliers with my father at age 10. Then at 16 I became a Democrat by persuasion, campaigning for John Kennedy in Alabama,” said Barnard.


Americans exercising their voting rights. (Copyright: BRIC Plus)

Following the outcome of the infamous Bush v. Gore election, membership of Democrats Abroad shot up. Barnard told us that membership trebled in the George W Bush presidency between 2000 and 2008. “Bush was our best recruiter,” Barnard joked.

“There is a good spirit in the room. I was concerned that we couldn’t reach 2008 in terms of a sense of occasion,” he told us. “On the Democratic side, when Bernie voters are surveyed they say they would vote for Clinton, and the Clinton voters are the same way.

“So I think there’s less of a difficulty in healing rifts during the campaign than there is on the Republican side – they are falling apart,” Barnard said.

The Republicans, though they have a Republicans Abroad organisation, do not hold any selection formal election process for overseas Americans as part of  their increasingly venomous race for their nomination, because it is not a formally constituted US political party.

Back at the London Democratic event , the voters we spoke to seemed to exude the positive and joyous atmosphere. “There was a very good energy, lots of people to talk to,” said Teresa Moran, 21, a student from Pennsylvania. Teresa told us she was supporting Hillary Clinton.

“I think that Hillary is the best candidate for our country. She stands the best chance of winning in the general election,” Teresa said. When asked about the ongoing investigation over Clinton’s e-mails, Teresa seemed unconcerned. “I think at this point hearings have gone on, what’s past is past. Instead of focusing on the negatives, I like to focus on the positives of what she has done.”

We also spoke to Alex McCauley, a 21-years-old London School of Economics student from Texas who was supporting Bernie Sanders.”I like him, I think he’s an inspiring person, as a politician. I think he might potentially compete more effectively with Trump for general anti-government populist segment. Although Sanders has been a senator for decades, Hillary Clinton stands more for the establishment. So people sick of politics might choose Trump over her, which scares me.”

Teresa reinforced the air of togetherness at a vote which I had expected to be bitterly divided. “We’d support Bernie come November, should that be the case. I think the Democratic Party will certainly come together behind a candidate, no matter who it is. I think the Republicans are quite a scary bunch, to all of us.”

This was the prevailing theme. As the jazz band played away, whether they ‘Felt the Bern’ or were ‘Ready for Hillary’, Democrats came together to exercise their democratic rights – and had a good time doing it.


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  1. Subtle spin, but it’s there. You put Hillary first and highlight the voter’s reasons for supporting her, while passing the Bernie supporter off in a plain paragraph. I see what you did there. I hope Bernie wins. Now AND in November.

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