First a virtual tie, then a huge win in New Hampshire, and a close loss in Nevada — in terms of pledged delegates, the votes that actually matter, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton nearly tied going into the race for South Carolina. Even with her resounding win there, the truth about the Democratic primaries in 2016 is that they will probably be very close, with both candidates ready to fight every state and territory.
That means Super Tuesday — today, 1 March 2016 — may decide who wins the Democratic Party’s presidential candidacy. And the deciding votes could be cast in the most peculiar place: London.
How is it that our benighted capital might hold the key to the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton? Well, it’s all about the numbers, meaning delegates and the votes necessary to get them, and the odd position of Democrats Abroad.
What on earth are you talking about?
People who didn’t grow up in the USA can be forgiven for being confused by how the US primary system works. The process of party elections for a potential executive in the US is very different to the UK parliamentary process.
Instead of a party leader being elected by a relatively small number of party members from an already elected list of MPs, US presidential candidates need not hold any current political office, and are elected through a series of state contests. The rules of these contests are set by the state body of the respective political party, and the rules can vary wildly — so much that some states let anyone vote in primaries, regardless of party membership; and some use caucus systems, rather than a vote, where supporters of candidates move around a hall to cast their votes.
To make everything a bit more complicated, each state political party negotiates a date with the national political party. This year’s Democratic primary contests started with the Iowa caucuses on 1 February, and end with the District of Columbia’s primary on 14 June. This is followed by the Democratic National Convention, where the candidate will be officially announced, on 26-28 July. Republican contests are on similar dates.
The result of this is a primary season where the winner could very well not be known for five and a half months. But, as the national, or ‘general election’ is held in November, the primary season is important for candidates — there’s not much time between winning a party’s nomination, and challenging for the presidency.
London is Berning!
The rise of Bernie Sanders in London has mirrored his increasing popularity in the USA. The UK campaign was launched at last year’s July Fourth picnic, and initially consisted of four or five people, three of whom were relatives of the candidate: Bernie’s older brother Larry has lived in the UK since 1968, and raised his son and daughter, the future first nephew and first niece, here. However, as of Super Tuesday, there approximately 1000 registered Sanders supporters in the London area, and last week saw supporters’ events in Scotland that drew hundreds of participants. So it’s not just London that is feeling the Bern!
But wait, the UK isn’t actually the 51st state…
You’d be forgiven at this point for being confused about why votes in the UK count for US presidential candidates. Since 1975, it has been possible to vote by absentee ballot — a kind of postal vote — for federal elections. These elections, including party primaries, are handled by individual states, as above.
But, what about a non-state state? In 1976, a small group of expatriate members of the Democratic Party first cast votes at the Democratic National Convention to elect their party’s candidate for president. They did this as an expatriate group — Democrats Abroad. Throughout the years the process has become more defined, and now Democrats Abroad has the voting power of a small state in the 2016 race — almost equivalent to Bernie Sanders’s home state of Vermont — and the voting constituency of a small city: only 25,105 votes were cast by Democrats Abroad members in 2008 at the last contested primary, compared to more than 154,000 in Vermont. This often overlooked and under-loved group punches above its weight.
So where are these bloody Yanks coming from?
According to the US government, there are approximately 8.7m US expatriates. Of those, the UK government census says there are about 200,000 US citizens living in the UK. Many are born dual-nationals, former members of the military, or businesspeople. But all of them over the age of 18 have the right to vote.
With the race predicted to be too close to call, every delegate counts. So much so that Bernie Sanders became the first presidential candidate to ever directly address expatriate American issues in a Global Town Hall a few weeks ago. Clinton sent former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who had a lot to say about foreign affairs, and very little about expatriate issues.
What are expatriate issues? Taxes, taxes, and more taxes.
Expats do care about foreign policy, but what they are really concerned about are taxes and banking regulations. The USA is one of the few countries in the world that operates citizenship-based taxation — meaning no matter where a US citizen is resident in the world, they still owe taxes to the US government. Add to that two pieces of legislation designed to combat tax-evaders: FACTA and FBAR, and you have the three issues that are important to the majority of expatriates. Between Clinton and Sanders, only Sanders has come out with scrapping citizenship-based taxation and limiting FACTA and FBAR to cross-border accounts.
But what about voting for Trump?
Expats dying to get their Trump on in London are out of luck — they’re restricted to voting in absentia in their home state, as the Republican Party doesn’t have a group representing voters abroad. They do have a fundraising group called Republicans Overseas, but this is more of a club, and doesn’t send delegates to the Republican National Convention. Interestingly, the winner of the Republican Overseas straw poll earlier in the year — Rand Paul — has already dropped out of the race; Donald Trump and Ted Cruz did poorly in the unofficial vote by comparison.
Photo: Stanley Leung
The Democrats Abroad Global Primary starts on 1 March. Details of voting centres in the UK can be found here. Any member of Democrats Abroad can vote, and non-members can sign up on the day.
There are also voting centres in more than 40 other countries. An Internet registration and postal vote option is also available. For more information on Democrats Abroad and the Global Primary, please see here.
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