Super Tuesday didn’t begin at 6 a.m. in Virginia, USA, but at 12.01 a.m. in Wellington, New Zealand, which declared for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton by 21 votes to 6 (with one spoiled ballot). Since 1988, Democrats Abroad – members of the Democratic Party who live overseas – has been considered a state in the presidential primaries. It sends 21 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, only slightly fewer than Wyoming, North Dakota or Alaska. (Republicans living abroad have to vote by absentee ballot in their home state.) In 2008, DA was among a handful of states on Super Tuesday to declare overwhelmingly for Obama, who until then had been more or less tied with Clinton.
DA was created by Americans in London and in Paris who were unable to vote in the 1960 contest between Nixon and Kennedy. One of the founding members, Life’s picture editor John G. Morris (who ran Robert Capa’s D-Day photos), still lives in Paris. Sharon Manitta, who has been a member in the UK since 1979, told me that the next major surge in international membership and activism was the election of George W. Bush. ‘People were very angry. He was the best recruitment tool we ever had – people joined the Democrats from all around the world.’
Since the 1970s, DA has campaigned to secure citizenship rights – including national and federal voting rights, and access to healthcare – for Americans living overseas. Since the late 1990s, it has campaigned on tax legislation: the US is the only country other than Eritrea to ‘double tax’ its overseas citizens.
‘American media concentrate on the US, but when you live in another country you have a broader view of the world,’ Manitta said. ‘The only time that doesn’t seem to apply is when you’re very very rich, and you send your children to public school, and you don’t mix with a range of local people from different backgrounds, and you live in one of the American ghettos – neighbourhoods like Chelsea and St John’s Wood and Knightsbridge... It’s very sad, staying in a bubble like that.’
DA uses teleconferencing tools to host discussions accessible to Americans around the world. A couple of weeks ago, Sanders attended the first Global Town Hall event ‘in person’; Madeleine Albright and Jake Sullivan attended on Clinton’s behalf. There are other ways, too, in which she’s been more remote than Sanders. Last week the Clinton campaign held an event at a private gallery in Mayfair, with Chelsea Clinton and Anna Wintour. Tickets cost $500. To have your photo taken with Chelsea would cost a further $500; dinner was $2700. I wondered if someone like me could afford to be a Clinton supporter. But the Sanders event – a rally outside Parliament – was free, and open to the public, so I went to that.
At 6.30 p.m., his supporters held up a lit ‘Bernie’ sign and to chants of ‘We’re not a Super-PAC!’ made their way to the voting centre. The queue went down the street and around the corner for an hour after the doors opened as more people arrived. Kedar Patel, a recent graduate from South Carolina, told me that this was his first time voting in a primary. He’d never before believed there was much difference between the candidates – not even with Obama’s candidacy in 2008. ‘But this time there is someone trying to do something unprecedented,’ he said.
‘I feel lukewarm about both the candidates,’ Joseph, a young African-American, told me. ‘I wish Elizabeth Warren had run.’ ‘After Obama, it’s a return to the status quo and the established families,’ Coretta, who was with him, said. ‘Bernie is patronising, and I don’t trust Hillary.’
‘The campaigning has been the most energetic I’ve seen it in 16 years,’ Tim Warmath, a middle-aged white man who’d volunteered for Clinton’s campaign, told me. ‘It’s the election of a lifetime, and the tone has been driven by the absolute disaster of the Republican candidates destroying the American political process.’
Inside, DA officials and volunteers kept the queue moving through the corridors, up the stairs and into the main hall, where a swing band was playing as people came in and voted. ‘Living abroad, we see how much America affects the lives of other people around us, and we recognise what a privilege it is to be able to vote in America’s elections,’ Karin Robinson, a former DA-UK vice-chair told me. ‘Now we’re getting a lot of questions about Donald Trump, and it makes us sad because we can’t explain. We don’t understand it either.’
DA voting will end on Tuesday 8 March, when voting centres close in Abu Dhabi, Luxembourg-Ville, Oslo, Santa Domingo, Prague, Tokyo and Niagara.