The presidential primaries, held in states across the US, are in full swing. But Americans living abroad can also cast their ballot in a special presidential global primary - but only for one party.
For American citizens living overseas voting already began last month.
Since January 11, ballots can be cast in the #link:http://www.democratsabroad.org/global_presidential_primary:global presidential primary# launched by Democrats Abroad, the international arm of the US Democratic Party. Registered voters can already send in their vote via email attachment, mail or fax before local voting takes place in more than 40 countries and over 110 different cities across the globe in the first week of March.
With the Democratic nomination, somewhat unexpectedly, shaping up to be a competitive race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Democrats Abroad are bracing for a strong turnout.
Planning for big numbers
"The last time we had a contested primary, our first primary, was in 2008," said Mike Heffron, deputy director of communications for Democrats Abroad. Back then, he said, they received tens of thousands of votes. "We are expecting quite a few more this time around. We are planning and preparing for big numbers."
There are an estimated 8.7 million Americans living abroad, more than the population of US states such as Missouri or Massachusetts. Compared to that figure, the number of people participating in the global primary is likely to be comparatively small – not unlike in the primaries back in the US where it is also only a tiny fraction of the electorate that votes in the polls.
But the ballots cast by Americans overseas matter and will be called when the Democratic Party officially determines its presidential candidate at the convention in Philadelphia in July, said Heffron. "We have 17 votes at the convention and those delegates will then be based on the results of the primary proportioned to the different candidates."
Full election mode
In Germany - with at least a quarter of a million of American citizens one of the biggest chapters of Democrats Abroad - party officials are already in full election mode.
"We have phone bank teams working all over Germany to make sure we get turnout to our polling stations and for those who can't make it or live too far away, like me, they can vote from home," said Quaide Williams, chairman of Democrats Abroad Germany.
While voters have to be members of Democrats Abroad, the process is easy and free. "We have same day voter registration as in America", said Williams. "Come in, show your identification, join and vote."
In Germany, starting on March 1, American citizens will be able to cast their ballots at various times in 13 voting centers across the country.
Williams and Heffron argue that while US citizens living abroad can also vote by absentee ballot in their home state, it is important for Americans residents overseas to make their voices heard in Washington.
Special issues for Americans abroad
"There are many issues that Americans abroad deal with that Americans at home don't or don't even know about," said Williams citing the controversial Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) as an example.
The law, enacted in 2010, was supposed to curb large scale tax evasion by a small number of net-worth US persons living abroad. But in reality, said Williams, it has ended up making the lives of ordinary Americans living and working abroad more difficult because they have not been exempted.
Another reason to participate in the global primary, said Heffron, is the unique experience provided by casting a ballot in a local election center abroad compared to voting in big states like New York or California with millions of Democrats:
"With us you can really see the difference you make when you go out and vote, especially in small communities where there will be a count at the end of the day and you will see how your city or town voted."
The Republican Party has no comparable set-up for Americans living abroad. US citizens wanting to take part in the Republican primaries and caucuses must vote via #link:https://www.votefromabroad.org/vote/home.htm:absentee ballot# in their home state.