‘Florence is the new Florence!’ So says the slogan echoed at Palazzo Vecchio to mark the beginning of a new and vibrant phase in the city’s life. That new energy will be increased on March 5 to 7, 2010, as people from every continent gather in Florence for the international meeting of Democrats Abroad.
Alexis de Tocqueville may have said it first, but it bears repeating that the United States is a nation of joiners; and this national trait doesn’t diminish when Americans move abroad. Indeed, Democrats Abroad (DA; http://www.democratsabroad.org/) was founded in Paris and London in 1964, and since then it has led the way in advocating for the rights of overseas voters, helping to first secure that right through the Overseas Voting Rights Act of 1975 and pressing for many continued reforms since.
DA is recognized as a ‘state party’ within the Democratic Party, just like California, Massachusetts or any other state in the union. As such, DA sends voting delegates to the national conventions, most recently in Denver, and participates in discussions that shape the party’s platform. The unique profile of DA, with members living in over 160 countries around the world, gives it a special role in the national debate over foreign and domestic policies. This past summer, at the annual Doorknock, DA members met in Washington, DC, to knock on the doors of congressional leaders, bringing their global perspective to bear on the healthcare debate, as well as continuing to advocate for the special needs of Americans living abroad.
This type of advocacy is just one aspect of DA’s work. Indeed, the central mission of DA, however, is enfranchisement: that of making sure the right to vote is extended to all Americans everywhere. The website http://www.votefromabroad.org/ (VFA) is a tool designed by DA to help people register and obtain their absentee ballots while living abroad (go now to register for the November elections!). In the lead-up to the 2008 elections, in tandem with VFA, a 24-hour voter hotline was created so that Americans living all over the world could call in with questions. Volunteers, themselves voter experts, made sure a record number of overseas Americans successfully exercised their right to vote. After the elections, DA/VFA conducted an overseas voter survey; the results are now being used to lobby Congress for better, more unified election policies and to show Congress that Americans living abroad are politically aware and active and that they can swing major elections.
In this critical election year, with all seats in the House and a third in the Senate up for vote, DA will be actively getting out the vote. American voters living overseas have received growing recognition by policy makers in Washington, as the overseas vote has been critical to important election outcomes. In the 2006 midterm elections, when the victory of Virginia senator Jim Webb tipped the balance in the Senate to a Democratic majority, votes from abroad were more numerous than the margin of victory. In the 2008 elections, President Obama’s winning margin of 13,692 votes in North Carolina was largely due to overseas absentee voters, as were the Senate victories of Alaska’s Senator Begich and Minnesota’s Senator Franken.
This is why the Democrats who will be meeting in Florence know they have much to be proud of. They are also keenly aware of the work that still needs to be done. This dual role, as an active participant inside the Democratic Party, as well as a good neighbor to Americans living abroad as they exercise their right to vote, continues to make DA the dynamic and vibrant association it is today, whether in Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Mexico City, or right here in Florence.