Internet gives Americans abroad a stronger voice in presidential nomination

Everyone Counts assists overseas Americans vote in the Democratic primary

Everyone Counts, a company based in San Diego that specializes in online voting, is running the Internet voting for the Democrat primary for overseas residents. Everyone Counts handled the voting by Internet for local elections in British cities in 2003 and 2007 as well as the online voting for the Australian election in November, handling voting by soldiers stationed in Iraq and other spots overseas.The Democratic primary for Americans abroad will start Feb. 5, the Tuesday when 21 states will hold primaries, and run until Feb. 12. In addition to voting by Internet, people can also cast ballots by mail, fax or - in 34 countries - they can vote in person."

Internet allows people to participate who are busy and wouldn't normally get involved," said Meredith Gowan Le Goff, a lawyer who is the vice chairman for Democrats Abroad in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "We want all people to be able to take part in the primary whether they are a Peace Corps worker in Africa or a missionary somewhere in Asia."Prospective voters must be American citizens living overseas and must either be members of Democrats Abroad, a mostly volunteer organization that groups Democrats living abroad, or they may register and request a ballot at  Republicans Abroad is not a part of the Republican National Committee, also known as RNC, which is responsible for the convention that chooses a candidate, so Republicans living outside of the United States cannot send delegates to the convention, but like Democrats they can vote by absentee ballot in the primaries in the state where they were last a resident."Will that change soon? I don't think so," said Cynthia Dillon, the executive director of Republicans Abroad. "If we were under the RNC we would probably send delegates, but we aren't."Prospective Democratic voters must sign up by the end of this month and will be sent a personal identification number via regular mail that they use to identify themselves when they vote online. They will also be asked other questions to confirm their identity when they vote.To ensure anonymity, when the vote is sent in, the PIN is cancelled and the vote is given a random identification number that only the voter knows and which can be used to confirm that the vote got counted."

One of the things we add besides security in the voting is a way to monitor the vote as it is going on and to see if there has been a breach," said Lori Steele, chief executive of Everyone Counts. "People can also check to see that their vote arrived and was counted, so there are many checks and balances in the system." Yet security of the voting process, whether it be in person or over the Internet, remains on the minds of some of those involved in the voting preparations."You can never be sure there is no fraud," said Gowan Le Goff. "Fraud is possible in any election and we have seen a lot of it in some recent elections. The best you can do is focus on the process and do the best you can to guarantee there is no fraud and that is what we are doing."

There are no official figures on the number of Americans residing outside of the United States because of the difficulty in keeping track of a largely transient group, some of whom do not alert officials that they have moved overseas. Estimates from both political parties put the number at six to seven million. At 6.5 million, that would make a conglomeration of the U.S. citizens living abroad the 13th most populous state just ahead of Massachusetts, but the Democrats living abroad will get just 22 delegates, the same number as South Dakota and just 5 percent of the California delegation. California is the most populous state in the United States, with 35 million residents; South Dakota is the 46th, with 750,000 residents."The number of delegates is very low, but the problem is we don't know how many people are of voting age living abroad and some may go home and vote," said Gowan Le Goff. "There is no way to count the Americans out there. At least in South Dakota you know how many people are living there. Students, Peace Corps volunteers, Mormon missionaries, these are not people that stay put so they are hard to count."

Americans living abroad have been able to vote in federal elections since 1976, and those who vote in a home state's primary cannot also vote in the Democrats Abroad balloting.