Overseas Americans! You, too, can participate in this year’s crazy election primaries

It’s not that hard.
It’s not that hard.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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There are an estimated 8.7 million registered American citizens living overseas, but their participation the country’s presidential elections is usually dismal. Although overseas voters have been dubbed “a virtual swing state that could decide the victor” in 2012, and controversially aided George W. Bush’s election victory (paywall) in 2000, less than 7% of eligible overseas voters cast a ballot in the 2008 election.

Participation in the primaries is traditionally much, much worse.

Just 23,000 overseas Democrats cast ballots in the 2008 primary runoff between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, for example. The situation, anecdotal evidence suggests, has a lot to do with the fact that most overseas Americans have no idea they even have a primary vote. The few who do are often confused by the registration and voting process.

In the interest of civic duty, here’s how to cast your vote in the ongoing primaries if you’re one of that 8.7 million.


Democrats Abroad, the official overseas arm of the Democratic Party, makes it fairly easy for voters to participate in the primaries. Overseas Democrats are allotted 17 delegate votes in the primaries, a tiny fraction of the 2,383 delegates needed to win the nomination, but still important given winning is by a simple majority.

Voters must first register to become a member of Democrats Abroad (which is free) and then they have until midnight Central European Time on March 8 to fax or email in a ballot with their vote. Or they can go in person to any of  121 locations in 40 countries (pdf) that range from libraries to bookstores to bars, and cast their vote at specific times and dates.

Long before “Super Tuesday” voting started on American soil this year, the first polls were open for Democrats in Wellington, New Zealand, where 28 voters showed up at midnight to cast their votes in a pub. They were decidedly feeling the Bern; 21 votes went to Sanders.

“A large percentage of Americans overseas are dual-national citizens, and although they hold a US passport, they may not have a history or habit of voting,” Alex Montgomery, the regional vice-chair of Asia Pacific for Democrats Abroad, tells Quartz. But they should realize that “what happens in the US elections affects you, wherever you are.”


It is harder to participate in the primaries if you’re Republican, because there is no official overseas body of the Republican Party. Overseas Republicans also do not have any allotted delegate votes. But individual states will allow legal residents to vote in primaries, albeit only around the time of the state’s primary election.

To participate in New York State’s April 19 presidential primary, for example, Republicans must register by March 25, complete a ballot, and mail it off by April 18th. (If your state primary has already happened, you’re out of luck.)

More information about overseas voting deadlines for individual states is available at the Federal Voting Assistance Program website.