Voter Registration and the 2010 Federal Midterm Elections
In coordination with American Voices Abroad (AVA) and Democrats Abroad - Berlin (DA), this was the third election cycle I helped organize absentee voter registration for in Berlin. This was somewhat quieter than the Presidential election two years ago, but important nevertheless. My analysis can be found in the conclusion below. Here first though, a summary of what was done.
Voter Registration - Online
For online-assisted registration and application for an absentee ballot, we promoted two websites:
Information was also available directly from the U.S. government's Federal Voting Assistance Program. Application forms could be downloaded directly there. In all cases, the application needed to be printed out, signed, and mailed to the hometown registration office.
Voter Registration - Personal
A workshop for voting assistance officers was offered by the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program in the U.S. consulate on April 1st. Several members of American Voices Abroad and Democrats Abroad along with others of the American consulate and expat community attended to learn about any changes since the last election. Actually, hardly anything was new. In fact, the procedure has been standardized somewhat across the states and there are fewer deviant regulations, making the Voting Assistance Guide less thick. The most interesting thing though was the new guideline on which state-side address to use in case you have moved around before leaving the U.S.:
The last place you lived.
The last place you were registered. This is most reliable, because you are known at this address.
However – and this was new –, if you really feel connected to your hometown, you can also register to vote there. You probably should also be known to the authorities there.
Thus trained, voter registration team members personally helped to register voters at registration tables at various events around Berlin from the spring through the fall:
(Click on the small images to view larger picture of them.)
9 May – Opening of the Tempelhof Field "Open Sky, Open Hearts, Open Futures" kite festival / AVA picnic.
9 May – John Shreve’s American gospels and spirituals recital at the Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Gemeinde.
The following flyers were distributed through various channels. One of the first places was at a public outdoor screening in front of the Olympic stadium of the first game the American team played in the soccer world championships. I also put some on display and in information racks at some “American” restaurants and cafes. They were also sent to the foreign-student offices of local universities and colleges. Was glad to see the Humbolt University printed out a color version to post on its information board for American students.
Jessica Andrade, the Democrats Abroad Berlin Chapter Secretary, organized a phone banking campaign in the fall. I didn’t participate, but those that spent many hours on the phone reaching out to the over one thousand known Democrats in Berlin were able to encourage quite a number to still apply for an absentee ballot, usually via the VotefromAbroad website.
Evaluation and Analysis
We registered 93 (ninety-three) people at the voter registration desks I’ve organized – ranging from zero per event (e.g. Humboldt University when it was essentially over) to eighteen (e.g. JFKS Funday). Others from the team reported low to moderate numbers. Books in Berlin registered nearly twenty and Kara Krull from the JFK school counselor's office informed and counseled many American teachers and seniors.
The effect of online-based registration is hard to evaluate. Due to data privacy issues, statistics on where the registrations came from are unavailable. However, the Overseas Vote Foundation does report that in a worldwide comparison 5 % of the clicks on their website came from Germany (third place) and of those, 7 % came from Berlin (second after Munich with almost 30 %). Berlin therefore ranked 32nd worldwide – London was first.
This number of personal registrations wasn’t much all together, especially compared to the hundreds registered, for example, the day Obama spoke at the Siegessäule two years ago.
There are several reasons for this decline:
The general lesser interest by the electorate for mid-term elections, worsened by the inherent poor voter turnout inherent in the American election system.
No “champion” to draw the masses as Obama did two years ago. Impossible anyway for regional and local elections.
Our past successes, actually. Many people we’ve talked to had already applied for their absentee ballots by themselves, usually online by using the known websites. They had been reminded by various e-mails and other political websites. Furthermore, they had often been contacted by their own hometown voting offices, inquiring as to whether they were still at the given addresses; most commendable from NY City and California.
So, were the election losses by the Democrats in Washington and many States the result of the “poor” job we did in Berlin? I should think not! I see other reasons:
The usual counter-swing by the electorate during mid-term elections against the party that won the previous Presidency, worsened by the inherent poor voter turnout inherent in the American election system (sound familiar?).
This is also the manifestation of the short memory and impatience of many Americans who expected too much and too quick from the Obama administration, especially if it would mean having to change their own ways.
There had been many who voted for Obama two years ago who voted for him for his “champion” image, but may not have voted Democratic otherwise. They were missing this time.
Actually, the losses were not that bad or as feared. A majority, not even too slim, was kept in the Senate. The swing in the House was expected and substantial, but not as dramatic as in other historical elections. The number of Democratic seats in the House had been rather above the average anyway.
In conclusion, I thank everyone who helped with this year's Get Out The Vote campaign. I think we did a good enough job here in Berlin. Even President Obama thinks so and recorded a message on November 4th thanking us for all we've done:
Watch the message from President Obama. Take a moment to watch it: