Wednesday, December 12, 2007

International Herald Tribune on US Citizen Voting Abroad

International Herald Tribune
Efforts increase to enfranchise U.S. citizens abroad
By Brian Knowlton
Wednesday, November 28, 2007

WASHINGTON: For Americans abroad, who often feel underrepresented, overlooked and little appreciated in the United States, the approach of the 2008 elections has brought some grounds for hope that this time their votes have a better chance of counting.

Last month, the nonpartisan Overseas Vote Foundation, or OVF, unveiled a revamped voter-assistance Web site that has drawn wide praise ( Dorothy van Schooneveld of American Citizens Abroad said the new software made it "rapid, simple and almost foolproof to register" from abroad.

Members of a new Americans Abroad caucus in Congress, which has trebled in size since its formation last spring, have introduced two bills aimed at simplifying voter registration, expanding voter education, and ensuring that expatriates' ballots are counted. Expatriate groups have warmly welcomed both bills.

And the Pentagon, after years of costly and uneven experimentation, plans to inaugurate next month an updated voter-assistance Web site that eventually will allow overseas voters from some states to download ballots, and not just registration and ballot-request applications.

"Far too many overseas Americans - including many of the brave men and women serving in our military - are being disenfranchised by a tangle of bureaucratic red tape," said Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, in announcing her sponsorship for one of the bills.

American voters abroad have long faced intense frustrations. But the 2000 election debacle galvanized private groups and election officials to seek ways to attack underlying problems, which have been numerous.

"Mail will get lost, you'll work with a local election official who doesn't understand the law, you'll find some places not sending out proper postage on ballots, just all sorts of problems," said Michael McDonald, an elections specialist at George Mason University who advises OVF.

A federal study in September found that barely one-third of the nearly one million absentee ballots requested by Americans overseas in 2006 were actually cast or counted; an estimated 4 million to 6 million Americans, civilian and military, live and work abroad. Though the numbers in the study were deemed incomplete, they nonetheless portrayed an electorate discouraged by difficulties, delays and confusion.

The two new bills - the second was introduced by Representative Mike Honda of California - address some of the problems.

Maloney's bill would, among other things, prohibit states from refusing balloting materials because they are generated by a computer program or not printed on a specific type of paper, and extend voting rights to Americans born overseas who have never established U.S. residency.

Honda introduced a bill to ban states from requiring the witnessing or notarization of ballot-return envelopes, long a problem in remote areas; require that passports include information on absentee voting; and create a $5 million grant for nonpartisan organizations to assist overseas voters.

The bills may ultimately be melded, a Honda spokesman said.

Prospects for the legislation are unclear, but expatriate groups strongly back them. Three nonpartisan groups - American Citizens Abroad, the Association of Americans Resident Overseas, and the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas - announced their "unified, strong support."

"These bills will enfranchise some would-be voters and ensure that good-faith ballots are not rejected," said Lucy Laederich of the women's federation. Christine Marques, international chair of Democrats Abroad, called the legislation "practical" and added,"We're really delighted." But Cynthia Dillon, executive director of Republicans Abroad International, had no comment.

Robert Carey Jr., a navy reservist with the National Defense Committee, a grass-roots, pro-military organization, said the bills "both address a very real problem: a poorly written original election law."

Carey is no fan of previous electronic attempts by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, an arm of the Pentagon, to help troops through the election process, calling them costly, ineffectual and "mismanaged." His committee urges troops instead to use the OVF program.

The Pentagon has spent several hundred thousand dollars since 2000 on what J. Scott Wiedmann, deputy director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, called a "secure voting experiment." Fewer than 100 people actually used it in elections, however.

But Wiedmann insisted that the early efforts helped lay groundwork for the launch next month of a new system. Like the OVF site, it will offer an interactive approach to inform voters about home-state requirements and guide them through a simplified registration and ballot-requesting process.

With the new system, a dozen states will allow voters to scan a completed ballot-request form and e-mail it, rather than using mail, Wiedmann said. And beginning in March, some counties will be able to e-mail blank ballots.

In February, Marques said, Democrats Abroad plans to make extensive use of fax and Internet, as well as regular mail and in-person voting, in a first "global primary" to send 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention next August in Denver.

Only people who register as members of Democrats Abroad before February - and who are not voting directly in state primaries - can take part. Results will be used to pick delegations for regional caucuses in Brussels and Vancouver, British Columbia, which in turn will select the Denver

Republicans Abroad has no comparable program, Dillon said.

New technologies or not, Wiedmann urged voters not to tarry.

"It's part of living overseas," he said. "You can't wait as long as you would at home."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

More Photos from DAT Annual Meeting

One of the youngest "Democrats Abroad" -- my six-year old daughter Nalinnipa "Annie" Robertson -- was in the audience and taking photos of our annual meeting. She got a few good snaps to share with you:

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Myths About Overseas Voting -- Setting the Record Straight

Recently, Democrats Abroad international secretary Robbie Checkoway wrote down all the reasons that he has heard over the years from Americans telling him why they don't register and vote. His responses are both informative and well-reasoned, and I wanted to share them. And here's Robbie:

As Democratic activists hear frequently, Americans living abroad may grouch about US politics daily, but fail to register and vote for a variety of reasons. US politics is too far removed from my daily life. They don't count overseas ballots. I can't vote because I no longer have a US address. I don't need to register; I already did in 2004. The next US election is in 2008. One vote can't make a difference. If I vote, the IRS will hassle me. Voting from abroad is too complicated. I'm not represented.

Let's look at those arguments one by one.

US politics is removed from the daily life of Americans living abroad: A fellow AIDS activist commented to me that US politics must seem pretty remote since I've lived overseas for more than three decades. No, I told him, I see the negative impacts of this administration every day. Promoting faith-based AIDS prevention and abstinence rather than condoms are two examples where our government fails Americans at home, and fails to use our tax dollars effectively abroad. Never mind the global impact of Administration arrogance and policy failures from Iraq to North Korea to Palestine, from security issues to AIDS to global warming--we are all impacted, wherever we may live.

They don't count overseas ballots: Every vote must be counted. It's the law. A winner may be called before overseas votes are counted, if the number of outstanding ballots is less than the margin between candidates. But before the results are certified, every ballot must be counted.

Americans outside the US share the concern of those at home regarding election integrity and protection of basic voting rights. Democrats Abroad is working to address the denial of voting rights of black soldiers.

I can't vote; I no longer have a US address: In every election, some of the tens of thousands of the members of Democrats Abroad experience hindrances in registration, largely because local election officials do not understand the federal regulation that allows voters who live outside the US to vote in their last place of residence--even if the address no longer exists. In 2004, this was exacerbated by local GOP mailings to the voter at his or her registered address. If the card or letter was returned, the GOP took these to election officials and got voter registrations annulled. Although some overseas Americans' registrations were initially denied, Democrats Abroad worked with local election officials to inform them of the law, and to get registrations re-instated--and we have improved and formalized those procedures for voters using to register for the 2008 election.

I don't need to register; I already did in 2004 or 2006: Voters living abroad should send in a ballot request every election year. Although a recent federal law states that a single ballot request should be valid for four years, thousands of elections officials are tasked with implementing the law. See the above item: Not all elections officials understand federal regulations.

The next US election is in 2008. OR a variant of this: I can only vote in federal elections, so I cannot vote again until 2008. As anyone reading Kos knows, there is an election of critical importance this year. And voters living outside the US can vote in ALL federal offices: that includes the important House and Senate races in their voting is jurisdiction.

One vote can't make a difference. Remember the 2004 Washington state governor's race? Decided by 127 votes. A handful more Democratic votes per precinct would have pulled Kerry ahead of Bush in IA, NM and OH.

If I vote, the IRS will hassle me. Wrong again. Voting for federal offices does not affect the determination of tax residence. Voting for state and local offices may; you need to know the applicable laws for your voting state.

Voting from abroad is too complicated. That used to be true--registration was done on a postcard form, relying on an inch-thick handbook. All that information has been distilled into the wizard, which guides you through only those questions required by your voting state. Takes three to five minutes to work through the wizard; print, sign, and mail. Most states deliver your ballot to your snail mail box, although an increasing number send ballots as e-mail attachments which have to be voted, signed and mailed through the postal service.

Final issue: I am not represented. I wish I could say "Wrong again." Technically, you are represented by the Senators from your voting state, and the Congressperson representing your district. But IA Senator Grassley is rumored to have said (can't find a link) that the reason he stuck it to overseas Americans in the recently enacted Tax Relief bill was because they didn't have anyone representing lobbying for them in Washington--defining representation GOP-style.

Since overseas votes are the only paper ballots in many jurisdictions; let's celebrate Independence Day by showing appreciation of that paper trail. Push back against the erosion of our liberties. If you're not yet registered, is the site. If you have already registered, go there to join Democrats Abroad--and pass the word to your acquaintances and family living outside the US.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Photos from DAT Annual Meeting

Long-time DAT member Lance Woodruff, who loyally volunteers to take photos at our events, has again taken some fine shots from our annual meeting. There was an excellent turn out of members, who joined in a lively discussion led alternatively by DAT Chair Phil Robertson, DA Asia-Pacific Vice Chair Gary Suwannarat, and newly elected DAT country committee members Elizabeth and Andy Boname. Thanks to Lance, and all the members who joined the meeting and shared their views and ideas on how we should take DAT forward in this rapidly approaching election year.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

DA Thailand Plans Strategy and Plots Course for 2008!

DA Thailand had an excellent annual meeting, with 39 members attending at the FCCT and another 17 members sending their proxies to participate. After hearing from guest speakers Clay Adler and Faith Shehane of American Citizen Services section of the US Embassy, DAT members held a free-wheeling discussion about strategies to reach out to larger groups of Americans, and brainstormed on activities for the rest of 2007 and into 2008. It was agreed that issues forums will be organized (with Vice-Chair Don Linder taking the lead) and a DAT movie night will be scheduled in September after one generous member volunteered the use of his house! A series of talks by speakers was raised, with the first to occur around Labor Day with a discussion by a visiting officer of the United Farm Workers of America about "US politics, the race for 2008, and immigration." No-host "social hours" will be organized on a regular basis for members to talk politics, meet new friends, and network. Andy Boname agreed to take on a research project on the changes to the overseas tax exemption for Americans, as a first step to developing policy proposals for the DA and the overall Democratic Party platform.

Members' questions about the exciting DA "Global Primary" were answered by DA Asia-Pacific Vice-Chair Gary Suwannarat, who came down from Chiang Mai with newly elected Chiang Mai & the North Chapter Chair, Dr. Peter Foley. DAT Chair Phil Robertson broached the idea of organizing a DA straw poll of the Presidential candidates, perhaps in November or December, for DAT members to take part in -- and will do more research on this idea. Numerous excellent suggestions were made for outreach to other organizations in which Americans are active -- such as US university student programs to Thailand, Rotary, and the Peace Corps -- and for use of new technologies (like blogs and other on-line resources) to help spread the DAT word.

The DAT Country Committee was formally elected at the meeting, with the following line up:

Phil Robertson, Chair
Elizabeth Boname, 1st Vice-Chair
Peter Fischbach, Vice-Chair
Don Linder, Vice-Chair
Rick Graves, Secretary
Andy Boname, Treasurer

Congratulations to the officers, and thanks to all the DA Thailand members who turned out and made the meeting such a success.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Bios of Candidates for DAT Country Committee

DAT is proud to announce the following members who have agreed to stand for office for the DAT Country Committee. Please join us on Thursday, August 16, 2007, at the DAT annual meeting (6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, to hear their views and ideas, and to help us plan to ensure the victory of Democrats in 2008! RSVP to democratsabroadthailand "at"


Philip Robertson

Phil has lived in Thailand for almost 14 years and first became involved in DA Thailand in the lead-up to the 2004 election. A former senior UN official and previously the Country Director of the Solidarity Center (AFL-CIO) office in Thailand, Phil is self-employed as a consultant working on human rights, labour, migration and human trafficking issues in Thailand and the Mekong sub-region. He is committed to a vision of DA Thailand as a network of politically progressive and engaged Americans who are active on issues, interested in organizing events, and committed to both making a difference -- all while having fun while doing so. Phil is determined to lead Democrats in Thailand to have an impact in US elections and through chasing out the Bush Administration, restoring some semblance of respect for human rights and justice in foreign and domestic policy. He served as Chair of DA Thailand for the past two years, and is running for re-election. Phil is originally from Boston, and can be reached at Reaproy "at"


Elizabeth Boname

Elizabeth and her husband Andy moved to Bangkok in March 2007 with their two small children after having spent seven years in Sarajevo, where they were both very active with the Dems Abroad chapter there. Elizabeth is a former journalist who later managed public information for a police department and a court, respectively. Most recently she has worked as a substitute teacher for middle and high school students. Elizabeth can be contacted at boname "at"

Don Linder

I have served as a Vice-Chair for DAT of several years now, and in this critical time in American politics, I would like to continue to serve and do whatever is possible to start the reversal of the horrors Bush/Cheney have created. I have lived and worked in Bangkok for six and a half years, first as Director of AUA for two years, and then as head of my own consulting company. It dismays me that I feel like a foreigner in when I make my yearly trips home, and it horrifies me when I read the statistics on health care, education, infrastructure, and the economy in the , due in great part to an administration based on greed, selfishness, and self-righteousness. I think it is critical that the Democratic candidates know the opinions of Americans living abroad, since in many ways we are better informed and certainly more aware of the global effects of U.S. policy than most of their local constituents. Don can be contacted at donlinder "at"

Peter Fischbach

Originally from New York, I have been an active member of Democrats Abroad Thailand for over 15 years, including two previous terms as Vice Chair. Voter registration, followed by a strong effort to “get out the vote”, are the most important activities of Democrats Abroad, and I am standing for re-election to the DAT Executive Committee because I am willing to continue contributing significant time and energy to those efforts. I am also currently a member of the Democrats Abroad global IT Reference Group, which is in the process of coordinating the complete upgrade of the organization’s IT systems for use by all DA country committees worldwide. I run a small company here in providing IT recruitment services, and am active in the American Chamber of Commerce. (Not being the quiet sort, my progressive politics are well known to most AmCham members by now!). My wife and I live with our two children in Bangkok. Peter can be contacted at peter "at"


Richard Graves

Richard is an attorney, licensed to practice in Washington State. He has a degree in Physics from MIT and a JD from Columbia University. His prior careers include medical software and appliance manufacturing in China. He is currently retired and living in Thailand, spending some of his free time designing products for his wife's factory in China. Richard can be contacted at email: gravesricharde "at"


Nominations Still Open (note -- Mike Saltz decided to withdraw)

Chair, Chiang Mai and the North Chapter

Peter Foley

Peter first became involved in Democrats Abroad back in the last 1980's. He was the DAT Chair for five years. He won a delegate seat in a DA election in Hong Kong and went to the 1992 Convention as a Bill Clinton delegate. Peter then went on to serve as the Chair for the Asia and Pacific region of DA. During this period 1985 to 1996 Peter was the regional director for Asia and the Pacific for Planned Parenthood of America's international family planning program (FPIA). From 1999 to 2002 Peter served as the Peace Corps Country Director for . Peter is now back in , serving as the vice president of the Prem Center for International Education in Chiang Mai. Peter can be reached at drpeterfoley "at"

(Note – this position is elected by DAT members in the Chiang Mai and the North Chapter only, and serves on the DAT Country Committee)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Announcing the Candidates for DA Thailand Country Committee

Dear Democrats in Thailand,

We have received applications from the following persons for the positions on the DA Thailand Country Committee:

Chair: Philip S. Robertson Jr.
Vice-Chair: Elizabeth Boname, Don Linder, Peter Fischbach
Vice-Chair representing Chiang Mai and the North Chapter: Peter Foley
Secretary: Richard Graves
Treasurer: Mike Saltz

Please come to the DAT annual meeting at the FCCT on August 16 to met these candidates for a two-year term as your DA Thailand Country Committee.

Look forward to seeing you then!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Big Turn-out for Democrats Abroad at I-Day this Year

Democrats Abroad Thailand had a very successful day during this year's Independence Day celebration held at the US Embassy grounds. Led by DAT Vice-Chair Peter Fischbach (the voter registration supremo), the DAT Executive Committee and volunteers helped over 60 Americans register to vote, and signed up 40 new DAT members! Democrats Abroad Regional Chair Gary Suwannarat also flew down from Chiang Mai to help out.

The fact that we got the booth right near the bandstand contributed to the festive atmosphere as numerous Americans came to fill out their voter registration forms, share their political views and opinions, and volunteer to help out on future events.

Several people noted that they didn't see representatives of the opposing party anywhere -- and a quick survey of the festival proved they were right. In DAT's view, this is perhaps the clearest indication how Americans in Thailand feel about 7 years of incompetence, mis-management, and wrong-headed policies by the Bush Administration. DAT will be sponsoring more events several times this fall to help people register to vote, and prepare the ground for real political change in the US in 2008!

Here are some more photos of our volunteers in action! Get in touch with us at democratsabroadthailand "at" or (085) 060-8406 to learn more on how you can get involved!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Nominations for Country Committee -- Democrats Abroad Thailand

Democrats Abroad welcomes further nominations for the positions of Chair, Vice-Chair (3 positions), Treasurer and Secretary. Please send your nomination to democratsabroadthailand "at" We will hold elections at our annual meeting on August 16 at the FCCT, starting at 6:30 a.m. Voting will be open to all DAT members, and membership is open to all Americans residing overseas in Thailand -- there is no charge for joining! Those who are not yet members but who wish to participate, we will have membership forms available at the meeting. For a map to the FCCT, please see their website at

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Greetings from Democrats Abroad Thailand

Welcome to the new Democrats Abroad Thailand blog! In this space, I hope that DAT can share and debate the issues and policies facing our country and our party, and providing a venue for our members' opinions and ideas for the projects and activities that DAT should be doing! Please feel free to contact me at any time at (085) 060-8406, or democratsabroadthailand "at" to discuss your views on what we're doing, and how we're doing it. As an all volunteer organization of Americans living in Thailand who are connected to the Democratic Party, we depend on the interest and energy of our members -- so please get involved! The annual meeting of Democrats Abroad Thailand will be held on Thursday, August 16, 2007 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok. Come by to learn more about our plans, and elect the new Democrats Abroad Thailand Country Committee! See you on the 16th!