US voters abroad mobilize for presidential poll

(By Deutsche Welle) Many Americans abroad have already postmarked their ballots for the presidential election. In Germany, Democrats and Republicans are debating the issues in a political culture that’s often far outside the American context.

On a windy Saturday afternoon in Cologne, John Huggins and his 19-year-old son Jonas stand in front of the subway station at the entrance to the Schildergasse shopping district near Neumarkt, braving both tempestuous September weather and suspicious passer-bys in the hope of drawing out the few American citizens from an anonymous sea of weekend consumers.

It is less than a month away from the US presidential election, one that media analysts and political operatives in America have billed as the most important in a generation – just like the 2008 election. Huggins and Jonas both carry signs advertizing VotefromAbroad.org, a website founded by Democrats Abroad which helps Americans register for their absentee ballots. Their goal is to get out the vote more than 4,000 miles from the US mainland.

Huggins, an American expatriate from South Carolina who works as a chemist, says he has voted in virtually all of the presidential elections in the quarter-century since he moved to Central Europe. But the 2008 campaign of then-senator Barack Obama inspired him to take to the streets of Cologne, the bustling cultural heart of the Rhineland, in search of Americans who had not yet applied for their absentee ballots.

“I’m actually very happy because most of the people we meet are first-time voters, young people that don’t know the system and need our assistance to apply for their absentee ballots, and so I think [that] I’m doing something good,” Huggins says.

The presidential campaign in the US has been framed largely as a referendum on a beleaguered incumbent, whose calls for hope and change have hit the hard political and economic realities of a world in upheaval. But Huggins remains an enthusiastic supporter of Obama. The expatriate chemist believes the president brought a positive change of attitude after the Bush administration. And Huggins views the Affordable Care Act, the president’s health care reform law known to some as Obamacare, as an achievement that has to be defended at all costs.

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