Diego Rivas, Chapter Chair of the Democrats Abroad in Berlin, joined us this week on the pod to discuss voter engagement overseas.
Democrats Abroad is the official arm of the Democratic party for Americans living abroad. It’s main purpose is to ensure that voters are able to vote and participate in the civic process. One of the ways they make sure to stay in touch is to send postcards, which members can pick up at their meetings, and to stay informed about issues in their home states.
And Democrats don’t forget about their voters abroad. Several prominent figures, including Martin O’Malley, Eric Garcetti, and Howard Dean, have come to speak to the Democrats Abroad of Berlin, in particular. Some important races are decided by absentee ballots, which are most often cast by Americans living overseas. In 2008, Al Franken even won his senate seat by a mere 312 votes – a number of which were from Americans abroad.
A big focus for the group is voter engagement, which is particularly difficult when members are from diverse areas of origin. In the Berlin group alone, there are few people who come from the same state, let alone the same county. And since states often have different voter registration and ID laws, keeping track and making sure that folks have up-to-date information is crucial and difficult.
Some things that Americans don’t think twice about can make a huge difference for Democrats Abroad. For instance, they must be incredibly selective about who they take donations from, or even sell things to, as they run the risk of taking campaign donations from foreign nationals, which is illegal. Although they often find friends, family, and colleagues sympathetic to their cause, they must be sure to never engage in any sort of financial transaction that could be considered illegal.
In addition to voter engagement, the party at large is pushing a Tax Reform plan, regarding residence based taxation, or RBT. Currently, the US taxes residents of other countries, while they also pay taxes in their country of residence. Many Democrats would like to see fair, residence based taxation, while others argue that removing US taxes would create unfair loopholes for corporations with overseas operations. Whatever the outcome, it’s important that Americans living in other countries are taxed within reason, and that corporations aren’t allowed to circumvent the law through these types of loopholes.
Democrats Abroad, as an official arm of the party, is also involved in the Democratic National Convention, and sends around 13 delegates every year. Similarly to how delegates are designated and selected stateside, the world is divided up into several slices – the Americas, Europe and Africa, and Asia – each of which sends a certain number of delegates. Delegates are chosen the way they are stateside: each delegate runs a small campaign and is elected to represent their district. Diego was lucky enough to be part of the Berlin elections, which is where the European delegates were chosen.
If you’re planning on living abroad, or know someone who is living abroad, the best way to get involved is to go to the Democrats Abroad webpage, and find the nearest group. If there isn’t one, Diego recommends starting a charter – it’s a lot easier than it looks!