- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

From combined dispatches

Americans living overseas started lining up in hotels and coffee shops yesterday to vote for Democratic candidates in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections, while others — for the first time — cast ballots online.

But some voting experts expressed fears that Internet ballots were vulnerable to tampering, computer hacking and could not be authenticated or recounted.

Indonesia, where candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois once lived as a child, began the Super Tuesday campaign at midnight. More than 100 people turned out at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in the normally bustling capital, saying America needed to restore its reputation around the globe.

“Living overseas, I think that’s the most important thing,” said Peter Gardiner as he waited in line with his family. “We’ve had eight years of an administration that has basically destroyed America’s image.”

Organizers of primary meetings in Europe said they hoped to stimulate interest in the U.S. election and motivate more expatriates to vote in November when the U.S. chooses its next president.

“I’d say this is the most important election we’ve had since World War II,” said Charles McDaniel, 50, a teacher from Houston living in Berlin. “Even if they paved the Iraqi streets with gold tomorrow, it wouldn’t rescue Bush’s legacy.”

“It would be nice to be able to say ‘I’m an American’ again without having to apologize for our president,” said Patrick Forster, 27, a Coloradan who lives in Berlin and was one of scores at a packed Democrats Abroad gathering in a pub.

While voting was taking place in more than 20 U.S. states yesterday, the busiest day in the U.S. primary election season, overseas balloting lasts for a week. Voting booths were being set up in locations ranging from a doughnut shop in Cambodia, to a pub in Ireland, to a French cafe.

“This is a critical election. We are at a tipping point,” said Don Bryant, a retired U.S. Army medical officer among dozens voting at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. “The direction it goes will make a big difference in the life my children have.”

About 6 million expatriates are eligible to vote, but only a fraction have done so in the past. Up until recently, their only option was to mail absentee ballot request forms to their last U.S. county of residence, then wait for ballots to be delivered in time to vote.

Melissa Howell-Alipalo, a longtime resident in the Philippines, was among those voting online yesterday — an option that, like overseas in-person voting, is not available to Republicans. “I registered with Democrats Abroad, I was approved, received my ballot number and a PIN code in an e-mail. I clicked on the hyperlink, entered my ballot number, address and birth date.”

Then presto, she said, she voted.

Barbara Simons, a member of the nonprofit Verified Voting Foundation and a critic of electronic voting, warned, however, that “just because it was simple, doesn’t mean it’s successful.”

Republicans Abroad has operated independently of its national party since 2003, therefore cannot hold in-person or Internet votes overseas.

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