Americans living overseas started lining up in hotels and coffee shops Tuesday to vote for Democratic candidates in the 2008 U.S. presidential elections, while others - for the first time ever - cast ballots online.
But some voting experts expressed fears that Internet ballots were vulnerable to tampering, computer hacking and could not be authenticated or recounted.
Indonesia, where candidate Barack Obama once lived as a child, kicked off the Super Tuesday campaign at the stroke of midnight. More than a hundred people turned out at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in the normally bustling capital, saying America needed to restore its reputation across the globe.
"Living overseas, I think that's the most important thing," said Peter Gardiner as he waited in line with his family. "We've had eight years of an administration that has basically destroyed America's image."
While votes to choose party candidates were taking place in more than 20 U.S. states Tuesday, the busiest day in the U.S. primary election season, overseas balloting lasts for a week. Polling booths were being set up in locations ranging from a doughnut shop in Cambodia, to a pub in Ireland, to a French cafe.
"This is a critical election. We are at a tipping point," said Don Bryant, a 54-year-old retired U.S. Army medical officer among dozens voting at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.
"The direction it goes will make a big difference in the life my children have."
Some 6 million expatriates are eligible to vote, but only a fraction have done so in the past. Up until recently, their only option was to mail absentee ballot request forms to their last U.S. county of residence, then wait for ballots to be delivered in time to vote.
Melissa Howell-Alipalo, a longtime resident in the Philippines, was among those voting online Tuesday - an option that, like overseas in-person voting, is not available to Republicans.
She said it couldn't have been easier.
"I registered with Democrats Abroad, I was approved, received my ballot number and a pin code in an e-mail. I clicked on the hyperlink, entered my ballot number, address and birth date."
Then presto, Howell-Alipalo said, she voted.
Barbara Simons, a member of the nonprofit Verified Voting Foundation and a critic of electronic voting, warned, however, that "just because it was simple, doesn't mean it's successful."
How do I know if ballot box stuffing was done?" she said in a telephone interview. "How do I know they were legitimate votes? This is not the way to run an election."
Republicans Abroad has operated independently of its national party since 2003, and therefore cannot hold in-person or Internet votes overseas. But it is organizing to get more expatriate Republicans registered back home in time to receive their ballots overseas and cast them in primaries later this year.
Hundreds of Democrats were registered in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation of 235 million, where Obama lived with his mother from the age of 6 until 10, growing up with exotic pets, like his monkey Tata, and tasting rare delicacies, from snake meat to grasshoppers.
"There is a bit of rooting for the hometown boy," said Tristram Perry, the public diplomacy officer at the U.S. Embassy, as an early tally at the J.W. Marriott gave Obama a resounding 75 percent of the votes to 25 percent for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"It is the first time someone who grew up in Indonesia is running for president."
But Ari Bassin, a 31-year-old New York native, said he was sticking with Clinton.
"She brings heft to the table and has respect from around the world that, at this point, I'm not sure Obama has," he said.
The Democratic National Convention in August will include 22 delegates from overseas. Under party rules, they get half a vote each for a total of 11. That's more than U.S. territories get, but fewer than the least populous states, Wyoming and Alaska, which get 18 delegate votes each.
The overseas delegates will be selected through a combination of local, regional and worldwide caucus meetings.
Posted by LS