Against Charles Bridge backdrop, Democrats Abroad announce tally for Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders

Julia Bryan

If you know Prague well and tuned in for the second night of the ongoing Democratic National Convention, when Joe Biden officially became the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, you may have noticed an ancient Czech landmark during the virtual “roll call” – the Charles Bridge.

With the iconic 14th century bridge in the background, announcing the share of Democrats Abroad delegates for former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and his former rival Senator Bernie Sanders, was that partisan organisation’s global chair, long-time Prague resident Juila Bryan.

I spoke to Ms Bryan – and also to Roger Johnson, the Republicans Overseas Czech chair and Vice Chairman for Europe, who lives in Brno – about the challenges and importance of getting out the U.S. expat mail-in/absentee ballot vote. Especially when the U.S. Postal Service is facing huge backlogs, and the Trump Administration is warning of potential voter fraud when mail-in ballots are used.

But I began simply by asking Democrats Abroad global chair Julia Bryan of how the Charles Bridge shoot came about.

“I heard from the convention that they were interested in having me be the roll call voter caster about two weeks ahead of time, maybe one week. … And the first question the [Biden] campaign had for me was, Where do you think we should shoot this? I asked, What are you looking for, what do you really need? And they said, We want to know that you are outside of the United States – you are representing Democrats Abroad, so what would be iconic? And I said, Of course, the Charles Bridge.”

You’re representing Democrats Abroad and officially cast the delegates – 10 for Bernie Sanders and 7 for Biden…

“Right... Of those 10 Bernie votes, 9 were pledged delegates and 2 were from automatic delegates. For Biden, 4 of them were pledged delegates and 6 were from our automatic delegates. This is interesting because Democrats Abroad get half votes for our automatic delegates – that’s why the numbers came out the way they did.”

It’s a bit of a confusing system for people outside the United States– and inside, for that matter.

“It is. It is a confusing thing also because Democrats Abroad are the only ‘state’ party that get half votes for our automatic delegates. It’s something you have to keep in mind every time you’re casting your votes – what the total count is ultimately going to be.”

And what does the vote count tell you? Just how ‘Blue’ [Democratic] are Americans abroad, at the moment?

“Well, Americans abroad are a really ‘Blue’ constituency. When you look at data about our voter toll on VotefromAbroad.org – where anyone can go and request their ballot – when you look at our data from this year, only 2 percent are registered Republicans. That’s an amazing number, actually, and really indicative of how ‘Blue’ we are as a constituency. Even if you look at data for voters abroad from Florida [a traditionally ‘Red’ state], you will see that only 21 percent are registered Republicans, and that is a state that has tons and tons of military voters in it – some 64 percent of their voters are military.”

“And if you look at our [Democratic] primary results, you can also see that too. Bernie Sanders received something like 57.9 percent of the abroad vote. Only two candidates actually got above the 15 percent threshold [candidates who fail to clear that bar in a particular state or district cannot win delegates there and are locked out of the critical part of the nominating contest]. So then he [Sanders] received almost 70 percent and Joe Biden a bit over 30 percent. So, we [Democrats abroad] are generally a 70-30 constituency in terms of Progressives and Moderates.”

With the coronavirus and moves to hamstring the Postal Service, as Democrats see it, has there been a groundswell of interest in terms of getting registered, getting the ballots and sending them off early? What are you seeing?

“That is a really crucial issue that we are working on hard now. We want everyone to know that for sure they can’t wait until November, and they really should not wait until October. There are 22 states where you have to return your ballot by postal mail – 22 – and the postal mail is taking two months in some cases to get back to the United States.

“We are recommending that people send in something called a Federal [Write-in] Absentee Ballot now, by first requesting your ballot at VotefromAbroad.org and then going to VotefromAbroad.org/FWAB to fill in your federal write-in absentee ballot. You can fill it and the postal mail it to your state – if you are one of those 22 states.”

“We are working really hard to mitigate that. Right now, so far, three states are becoming a little more lenient. Rhode Island has just moved to email. Missouri may moving to email – they did for their primaries. And Vermont is moving to email for anyone whose postal service has been completely suspended. We’re hoping more will come online, too. But it’s a big battle right now.”

Republicans Overseas: Roger Johnson, Vice President for Europe, Czech Republic Chairman

Roger Johnson, photo: Czech Television

I later spoke to Roger Johnson, Czech Republic Chairman of a similar organisation, Republicans Overseas, of which he is also Vice President for Europe. According to a U.S. State Department estimate from 2016, there were 9 million Americans living abroad. Support among them for (and membership in) the Republican Party is generally lower than for Democrats, with the exception of at military bases.

I began by asking him the nature of Republicans Overseas, which unlike Democrats Abroad, is not directly affiliated with the party, but also works to get out the expat vote and, among other things, lobbies for members’ interests, such as repealing the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA) passed by the Obama Administration.

“There was a previous organisation, Republicans Abroad, which transformed or was reorganised into Republicans Overseas in 2013. We now have over 40 countries with RO organisations … One of our main objectives and purposes for existence is to help American citizens living abroad of any flavour, of any political leaning, register to vote.

“In my conversations over the past 10 years in the Czech Republic being involved in Republican politics, I have several times had to explain to American citizens that voting overseas does not have any impact on taxation or anything the I.R.S. does, the Internal Revenue Service.

“I think that’s very important, and in that effort, we work also with Democrats Abroad. You may know that their global chairperson, Julia Bryan, is a resident of Prague, and I consider her a friend. We’ve been able to work together on a number of things over the years effectively.”

You’ve been involved in many campaigns overseas. Obviously, this election year is like no other due to the coronavirus, and there’s a lot of discussion about mail-in, absentee ballots, and of course that’s how Republicans Overseas get the vote out. Are you answering a lot of questions about that? Have you seen a groundswell of early voting?

“Yes, that’s true. I’ve voted and been living in Europe altogether for 40 years, initially as a U.S. Army officer in Germany and later on working for European companies, in Germany, Holland and the U.K. and the Czech Republic.

“It’s a bit frustrating to work through the challenges presented by the Covid virus… But voting by mail, which I’ve done since being overseas, you know, we don’t have a national system for voting abroad. In fact, even in the United States, every state is responsible for its own election operations, how they are run.

“So, there’s this issue of do you register as an absentee voter and request a ballot, or is it the shotgun approach where you vote it to everyone on the voter registration list. One of the problems with that, and I believe this is the case, is it opens up quite a few opportunities for fraud and misuse.”

In past elections, concerning Americans abroad or specifically Republicans Overseas or Democrats Abroad, have you seen evidence of that kind of fraud? Is it something of particular concern regarding Americans overseas?

“I’ve seen evidence that’s been published and news reports on that. But, you know, we Americans living overseas, we’re dispersed among the U.S. states very, very broadly. There’s no particular from a particular state, maybe with the exception of New York or [from major cities] like San Francisco or Los Angeles [both California] or Chicago [Illinois], where you’ve got a much higher population and more immigrants there.

“But that’s also why we don’t have a centre of gravity in most of the states now for Americans living abroad. The total number of roughly 9 million living overseas still provides the opportunity for us to support our candidates, and the [policy] areas and laws, we feel are important.”

And with regards to the situation at the U.S. Postal Service and concerns about delays, are you encouraging, through the website or here in the Czech Republic, for Republicans to get their ballots in early?

“Yes.”

And what would you say is the realistic last date that a voter could send a ballot in and be confident that it would be counted?

“My personal opinion, and without a statistic to back this up – I think voters living overseas should sent their absentee ballots no later than two weeks prior to Election Day [November 3].”

Lastly, is there anything I haven’t asked you about Republicans Overseas, here in the Czech Republic, that you’d like to highlight?

“Yes. We are – as in, I think, in all countries that I’m aware of – pretty broadly spread as to occupations, where we come from, what we’ve done in our lives, what our education level is. And I think it’s important to understand that we’re all equal citizens and should be able to exercise our right to vote.

“And in speaking to the ‘other side of the aisle’, Democrats Abroad, I think we have the same or very similar view on that. It’s our right, and we should exercise that. I’ve often had conversations with quite vocally Democrats who weren’t aware where they were able to vote, and I hope that I’ve been able to influence them as well, that it’s important to use that right.”

www.votefromabroad.org