Overseas Dems Could Be Crucial

London's Porchester Hall—where Elton John celebrated his 47th birthday—is a most unlikely setting for American democracy in action. But the ornate Victorian hall, which also houses a library and gym, will host hundreds of expat U.S. Democrats next week in the international version of Super Tuesday. Democrats Abroad (DA)—the overseas arm of the U.S. Democratic Party—is considered as a state under Democratic Party rules and will send 22 delegates (the same number as New Hampshire) to Denver for the Democratic convention this summer. The Republican Party does not offer primary voting overseas and encourages members to vote by absentee ballot in their home states.

The Democrats' London event will look a lot like primaries being held on the same day in states like California and New York. Voters who want to participate have to first become members of DA, and then, once they show their passport, they will be allowed to vote. There will be stump speeches (read by appointed reps from each campaign) and rallying cries to convince undecided voters which candidate is the best suited to be the Democratic presidential nominee. "There is an understanding in the Democratic Party that overseas votes can make a difference," says Christine Schon Marques, the international chair for DA based in Geneva. "This primary is important because it is the first step in capturing the excitement of the voters overseas."

London is just one of many cities across the globe that will be having some sort of Super Tuesday event on Feb. 5. Democrats in Jakarta, Indonesia, will be the first Americans anywhere in the world who will be heading to the polls Tuesday. In all, 34 countries will have polling stations set up. Voters living in countries without approved DA chapters can vote by e-mail, fax or telephone—as long as they have registered with DA at VoteFromAbroad.org by Jan. 31. The results for the global primary won't be available until after Feb. 12.

There are an estimated 6 million Americans who live overseas, with about half that number being of voting age. At times, those expat voters have been decisive. Without the overseas vote, Sen. Jim Webb would not have been elected in Virginia in 2006, and the U.S. Senate would have remained in the hands of the Republicans.

In a very tight race, the leading candidates are taking the overseas vote seriously. Representatives of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards (who dropped out of the race Wednesday) have been working to rally undecided voters in several countries. Karin Robinson, who works for a London recruitment firm, says she sees a huge difference between how John Kerry—whose campaign she also worked on—dealt with the overseas contingent and how Obama is reaching out. "[Obama's] campaign has been extraordinary," she says. "There are dedicated staff people who get in touch with us. I am sent daily talking points and we never have to beg for resources or information."

London-based Clinton supporter Margot Miller says she is surprised by how interested non-Americans are in the election this year. "I have people coming up to me all the time when I am wearing my Hillary button," she says. "My greengrocer, the builder down the street—not the kind of people you would expect to see engaged in what is happening in America—but there is incredible recognition of who she is and what she has been involved in." No doubt, much of the world will be watching the Super Tuesday results.