BERLIN - American expatriates in Germany are
turning out in record numbers for the presidential election,
spurred on by the German public, U.S. military commanders or a
newfound sense that every vote could be decisive.
Both the Republicans and Democrats Abroad groups have
reported huge jumps in registration this year. A few who missed
absentee ballot deadlines are so determined that they even plan
to fly to their home states next month just to vote.
The fourth largest U.S. expatriate community in the world,
the 270,000 Americans in Germany have traditionally leaned
toward Republicans because the large number of soldiers,
generally seen as more conservative, and the coordinated
efforts of the military to get absentee ballots to the 100,000
But with the 2000 election decided by 537 votes in Florida,
large numbers of civilians have also registered and sent
ballots to their home states, many for the first time in
"It's wild, we've had a 10-fold increase in registration,"
said Henry Nickel, chairman of the German chapter of
Republicans Abroad. "I used to have a job in property
development but helping people register and vote is all I do
The war in Iraq and President Bush's foreign policies, both unpopular
in Germany, have electrified the German public, which polls show would
overwhelmingly back Democratic challenger John Kerry if they could vote
in the United States.
Some Germans have channelled that energy into campaigns to
persuade Americans in Germany to register and vote -- which can
be an arduous battle with bureaucracy.
"We're getting involved because America's policies have a
big impact on our lives," said Sarah Voigt, one of about 50
Germans working for a pro-Kerry organization that is helping
the 20,000 Americans in Berlin register.
Her group has also staged rallies urging Germans to
pressure their American friends to vote in the Nov. 2 election.
GERMANY A "SWING STATE?"
The parties have paid close attention to expatriates since
1988. In senate elections that year Florida Democrat Kenneth
MacKay had led voting when polls closed but absentee ballots --
most from overseas -- gave Republican Connie Mack the win.
Yet it was the tight 2000 presidential election, decided in
Florida, that stunned many expatriates into registering in
"There are a lot of Americans in Germany angry at
themselves for not voting last time," said Andreas Etges, an
American history scholar at Berlin's Free University John F.
Kennedy Institute. "This time they all know every vote counts."
Germany's Der Spiegel magazine recently predicted that
Germany could be a "swing state" in the election -- not because
it has any electoral college votes but because the U.S.
military would not be as pro-Republican as in the past.
Gary Smith, director of the American Academy think tank in
Berlin, said U.S. civilians in Germany will be overwhelmingly
pro-Kerry and the military less pro-Bush than in 2000.
But Doug Clawson, managing editor of the military's Stars
and Stripes newspaper based in Darmstadt, said it was
impossible to predict how the military would vote this year.
"All we know is that the military has put in a lot of
effort to make sure everyone can vote," Clawson said. "And
these are soldiers who are going to follow the orders of their
commander in chief whether it's Bush, Kerry or Mr. Magoo."
© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd