The Super Tuesday Starting Line: Indonesia
By Keith B. Richburg
NEW YORK, Jan. 16 - The first Democratic primary ballots on the mega-primary day of Feb. 5 are scheduled to be cast in faraway Indonesia by members of Democrats Abroad Indonesia. And Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) might be said to hold the hometown advantage.
Obama lived in Indonesia from ages 6 to 10, after his mother married Lolo Soetoro, who was an Indonesian foreign student, and the young Obama attended Indonesian schools. Obama has often spoken of his time abroad as giving him a unique sensitivity to foreign cultures. But what is unclear is whether his experience will also give him an edge for the votes of Americans now living overseas.
There are some 6 million Americans living abroad, a group larger than the populations of all but 17 U.S. states. This year, Democrats Abroad will be sending 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Eight of those delegate slots are reserved for DNC members and the rest will be chosen through a serious of "global primaries," leading up to a convention for overseas Democrats in Vancouver, Canada, in April.
In an innovative twist, some Democrats living overseas will be able to cast their primary votes via the Internet and fax, as well as using the traditional walk-in centers.
The polls in Indonesia will open a minute after midnight on Feb. 5, with results released a couple of hours later. Given the time difference to the Pacific, that means Democrats living in Indonesia will have their votes tallied and released a full 12 hours before polling places open in any of the 22 states holding primaries that day.
Arian Ardie, a businessman who chairs the Indonesian chapter of Democrats Abroad, said in an e-mail that he hopes that with the midnight vote, Indonesia can steal a little of the limelight normally associated with the tiny New Hampshire hamlet of Dixville Notch, which has gained international attention for its tradition of having the first recorded votes in primaries and in general elections.
Before the voting starts, Ardie said in the e-mail, candidates' surrogates will be calling in to make their last-minute pitches to voters. Obama will be relying on his Indonesian sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, to make his case.
Democrats Abroad Indonesia has been trying to register as many members as possible before the vote, and has found a novel technique -- distributing official party condoms with a suggestive slogan. Ardie, in his e-mail, said the idea was to shed light on the Bush administration's "arcane family planning and reproductive rights policies."
Republicans, for their part, are not planning on having any overseas delegates seated at the GOP convention in Minneapolis, according to the Republicans Abroad office in Washington.
For the November general election, Americans living overseas will still have to vote the old-fashioned way: find the last state where they lived, and get an absentee ballot.
It is unclear how self-declared independents can vote from abroad, or even whether they will have an independent choice in November. But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has repeatedly said he is not a candidate even while his operatives explore an independent run, visited Indonesia in December for an international environmental conference.
Washington Post editors
January 16, 2008; 3:55 PM ET
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