Mar 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Democrats abroad overcome obstacles to conclude primary

Voters in Auckland, New Zealand

The polling station in Auckland, New Zealand, on Saturday. Photo: Rebecca Falconer/Axios

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — The Democrats Abroad primary ended early Wednesday Eastern Time following tense rounds of voting worldwide caused by closed precincts, digital ballots and the novel coronavirus.

How it works: United States citizens living abroad who register as Democrats vote via precincts around the globe. This year's voting took place from March 3-10, but organizers say results will not be announced until March 23 due to a high volume of mail-in ballots. There are 13 pledged delegates at stake.

Of note: Two 2020 contenders dropped out during the Democrats abroad voting window: billionaire Michael Bloomberg on March 4, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on March 5.

The big picture: Collecting votes from Americans living abroad is already a complex process, but recent events compounded the challenges.

  • The novel coronavirus made voting in person harder for Democrats in some countries. American citizens living in Cambodia and South Korea were told they had to vote online because of outbreaks there, per Time Magazine.
  • A nationwide lockdown in Italy, where the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has surged, limited Americans' ability to reach polling facilities.
  • Democrats abroad in China also faced closed facilities. Usually, voters could cast mail-in ballots, but fears of packages being stopped caused organizers to urge citizens to submit their votes through an email system.

Election security: Digital voting can pose concerns over election security, but Democrats Abroad New Zealand Chairman Mike Haught said they have a robust system in place.

  • "We've been working with remote balloting and remote systems for quite a long time. We have a system that's evolved the last few elections," he said.
  • "You can vote online, but we have a paper trail; we make sure everything is checked. We've got plenty of people on hand to keep an eye on the ballot box so it's not unattended."

Why it matters: Per Democrats Abroad New Zealand Vice Chairwoman Genice Paullay-Beazley: "We do have certain issues that are very exclusive to people living abroad, but we're still Americans and because we have a citizen-based tax system. I don't agree with that, but while we do, it's even more important that ... our individual and our expressive needs are heard."

Go deeper: In photos: American expats cast their Democratic primary ballots in New Zealand

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