WASHINGTON—Former President Jimmy Carter, convinced that the November elections carry "momentous historical importance" to the U.S. image abroad, is urging Americans overseas to vote.
Carter, the first honorary chair of Democrats Abroad, a group that encourages U.S. residents living overseas to participate in American elections, said in a telephone interview Monday that his travels had revealed "consternation, disappointment, sometimes animosity and embarrassment" toward the United States, aimed particularly at the war in Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which some European allies have called for closing.
The former Democratic president, whose Carter Center in Atlanta monitors elections across the globe, said his first obligation was convincing Americans overseas "to be patriotic and participate in the electoral process."
American citizens retain the right to vote in U.S. elections regardless of how long they've lived outside the country. An overseas voter's legal voting address is the last place that he or she lived before leaving the country.
Underscoring Democrats Abroad's partisan aims, Carter noted, "This particular year it's very likely that many Americans overseas would be inclined to vote for Democrats.
"They see the reaction around the world to the Bush administration is turning into a very strong negative attitude."
Carter's views come as Democrats suggest that they're within reach of securing one or more chambers of Congress—a move that the one-term president, who left office in 1981 after losing to Republican Ronald Reagan—called "hopeful."
"If either the House or the Senate could develop a Democratic majority, there'd be more opportunity for unity and compromise in Washington. I think there'd be much more inclination for working out reasonable approaches."
The group's counterpart, Republicans Abroad, also works to mobilize voters overseas, with chapters in several countries. Both groups were active in the presidential election in 2004, though no figures are available on how many overseas ballots were cast.
Carter is no stranger to Democrats Abroad, which is the official arm of the Democratic Party for American citizens who are living outside the United States. Carter said he reached out to the group when he was running for president, and called again when his son, Jack, began running for the U.S. Senate in Nevada. Jack Carter won the Democratic primary in August to challenge Republican Sen. John Ensign.
Carter said an estimated 5 million to 6 million Americans live overseas, and he noted that in recent elections—particularly in Florida in 2000, when a 537-vote margin spelled victory for President Bush—"every individual's vote counts."
To spread the word, he's conducted interviews with news outlets that reach Americans abroad and taped a video.
Those living abroad can get forms to register to vote and request absentee ballots through the Web site www.VoteFromAbroad.org.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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