- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

PARIS — Americans in Europe are signing up to vote in the November election in record numbers, energized by the war in Iraq and strong feelings about President Bush.

Democrats Abroad, a group started in London and Paris in 1964, said its membership in Paris has doubled in one year.

“We can’t keep up with the voting requests, not only from Democrats but from independents, from Republicans, and even from people who haven’t voted since the ‘60s,” Chairwoman Connie Borde said.

The Paris-based chairman of Republicans Abroad Europe, Robert Pingeon, said he, too, has seen a “100 percent increase” in the number of expatriate Americans registering to vote through its Web site (www.republicansabroad.org/Europe.htm).

A crop of new pro-Democrat Web sites is targeting overseas voters upset over Bush administration policies by offering them direct assistance in registration and voting, an often complicated and confusing procedure. Sites such as overseasvote.com, tellanamericantovote.com, and most recently, usabroad.org say their audiences have exploded.

Hong Kong-based Brett Rierson, a co-founder of overseasvote.com, said that since the site was launched in mid-February, the number of people using it to register “is approaching exponential growth,” with “well over 300 people from more than 90 countries” now downloading voting forms each day.

Bob Neer, the founder of usabroad.org who lived overseas for several years, attributed the phenomenon to a rise in the Internet as a medium as well as to a “heartfelt antipathy” to the U.S. administration.

“The Internet has fundamentally changed the ability of U.S. citizens abroad to participate in U.S. politics,” he said.

“At the same time, the foreign policy of the Bush administration has really impacted overseas Americans more than anyone else. It’s caused real suffering for them and even real danger.”

The Web sites, operated from many countries and continents, have a common goal: to defeat Mr. Bush. Despite their proliferation, nothing similar has been created for Republicans, aside from the site run by Republicans Abroad that provides links to voter assistance programs.

Mr. Pingeon, however, said he was not worried by the trend.

“The Democrats have been very loud and very shrill, but we really think we still own the vote,” he said. “The Republicans are a silent majority. Overseas Americans have always voted 3-to-1 for the Republicans, and I don’t see that changing.”

However, in Europe at least, a record-breaking number of expatriates have been flooding Democratic caucuses and conventions. In March, the Democrats Abroad global convention in Edinburgh, Scotland, drew more than twice as many people as the one in 2000.

Organizations such as American Voices Abroad (AVA), a nonpartisan coalition of U.S. civil rights and antiwar groups that has chapters across Europe, also have seen their memberships multiply.

“There is a sort of renaissance of American civic consciousness going on,” said Colin King, an AVA campaign organizer based in Berlin.

“The cause is a painful recognition that we have an administration that does not even feel confined by the most basic rules of our Constitution and traditions of foreign policy,” he said.

An estimated 3.9 million U.S. citizens living overseas voted in 2000. With overseas ballots counted in the voter’s home state, the absentee ballots could be decisive in battleground states such as Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“Up to four states will be decided by a small number of votes,” said Steven Hill, a senior analyst at the Takoma Park-based Center for Voting and Democracy.

“Americans abroad represent the padding for these battleground states, so they can really tip the election.”

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