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'Voting central': embassy gets out the vote among Argentina's resident Americans.

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The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, became "voting central" in early October as more than 800 U.S.-citizen voters dropped off absentee ballots, completed federal write-in ballots and joined in a star-spangled party.

The turnout appears to have been the largest at any of the State Department posts worldwide holding events to promote voting by Americans living overseas (see sidebar story).

At the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, the American Citizen Services unit staged the event to provide voters with a taste of home and encourage them to cast their absentee ballots in time for the embassy to forward them to the United States for counting.

Americans overseas do not vote at their embassy or consulate, but if they voted early enough some were able to have the embassy send their ballots back to the United States in the diplomatic pouch or via APO mail. Typically, Americans overseas mail their absentee ballots directly to their home state's election authority, which explains why ACS has no figures on the number of Americans voting overseas, said ACS Director Michelle Bernier-Toth.

"American citizens living overseas can sometimes feel left out during the election season," said Jennifer Noronha, consul general at Embassy Buenos Aires. "We wanted to give voters a chance to put their votes in a ballot box alongside their fellow citizens."

Though the post's "voting day" wasn't supposed to start until 9 a.m. on October 8, one American, 89-year-old Jack McLeod, arrived at 7 a.m. McLeod, a World War II veteran and former prisoner of war, said he was dropping off his absentee ballot because he was "proud to be an American."

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Joining McLeod were hundreds of American college students who were in Argentina on exchange programs, some casting their ballots for the first time in a presidential election. All together, about 900 persons gathered in the consular section's waiting room and the balloon-laden embassy courtyard to join in the celebration of democracy.

Before he dropped his Maryland absentee ballot in the big blue box set up by the post--and got his "I Voted Absentee" sticker--Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne addressed the crowd.

"Though we may be voting far from home, we are united with each other and with our friends and family through the act of voting," Ambassador Wayne told the diverse group of Americans. "By living in or visiting foreign nations, we have the opportunity to carry our new perspectives and experiences back to the United States, enriching our country's wealth of diversity and varied opinions."

To accommodate the large number of voters who had not yet received their absentee ballots and needed to complete federal write-in ballots, ACS enlisted the help of seven community members who had trained as voting assistance officers via video conference in August. A five-piece jazz band serenaded the crowd with American tunes, and various privateindustry food providers joined bakers from embassy families to provide attendees with all-American foods.

Representatives from 21 local media outlets and journalists from U.S. television networks filed reports. American citizens thanked embassy staff for planning a party just for them.

John L. Gibson and his wife Patricia Gasave attended the party, although they had already mailed their absentee ballots from home. Gibson said Gasave, a recently naturalized U.S. citizen, cast her first U.S. ballot this year.

"The excitement of her first vote reached its pinnacle at the party today," Gibson said.

Posts Worldwide promote voting

The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires was not the only Department post to promote absentee voting by resident Americans. The U.S. Embassy in Berlin's information fair for citizens attracted 250 people and similar events at the U.S. embassies in Beijing and Accra, Ghana, attracted approximately 150 and 110 attendees, respectively.

Those figures are from the Department's Office of American Citizen Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. The office said it expanded voter outreach this year to the estimated 5 to 6 million Americans living overseas, including launching its get-out-the-vote promotion earlier than in past election years.

Several overseas posts held activities during ACS's Absentee Voting Week, October 12-18. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, held a voting day at the city's American Club that attracted more than 300 voters; the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, set up voter information tables at three hotels and a school; and the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar, held a voting day and collected ballots from 250 voters.

Several posts also placed information about absentee voting on their Web sites and linked to www.fvap.gov, a Department of Defense Web site with overseas voting information and forms for an American overseas to download to request an absentee ballot.

Although many posts abroad made laudable efforts to get out the American vote, ACS Director Michelle Bernier-Toth had a special thank-you for the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires. "They did a great job," she said.

BY ROSEMARY MACRAY

The author is chief of American citizen services at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires.
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Author:MacRay, Rosemary
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Dec 1, 2008
Words:843
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