There has never been so much interest. About 120,000 Americans live in Germany, 21,000 of them in Berlin. They too can vote if the US president is elected. But even the Germans, who passed their information booths, usually had encouraging comments ready, the chairman of the “Democrats Abroad” Candice Kerestan said: “Toi, toi, toi!” Or “We keep our fingers crossed.” George Weinberg, Board Member of Republicans Overseas Germany and advisor to the global organization, on the other hand, “don’t beat the drum”. This is a political decision because his party respects German territory. However, he uses talk show appearances to publicize and represent the views of the Republicans in Germany. On election night he can be seen on Phoenix and on ZDF. And the major transatlantic organizations based here, including the American Academy and the Aspen Institute, began a series of virtual events titled “Road to Election Night & Beyond” in early September.
Fever on the electoral parties
German interest in US elections is not new. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, cheers echoed through Berlin on election night: he could be heard in the Telekom Representation Office, where the U.S. Embassy and Tagesspiegel were invited, and in Bertelsmann’s Representation Office in Unter den Linden, in clubs and universities. In the crowded Babylon cinema, where the Democrats Abroad held the largest party at the time, people danced on the benches.
George Weinberg, who lives half in Berlin and half in Florida, was four years ago with his wife and friends at a party for the last American election in the state council of Baden-Württemberg. They felt more or less in the minority because everyone was looking forward to Hillary Clinton’s election victory. Their joy was all the greater when they found out the next morning that Donald Trump would be the next US president. Weinberg’s vote wasn’t even counted. He is still audibly upset about that. To be able to vote by mail, he had to provide two signatures, one on the envelope and a second on the ballot paper. These two signatures did not match, he was told, so the vote was not counted. This time, as a precaution, he is asked in advance whether his vote is valid.
Much of what has to do with elections in the United States is not easy. Candice Kerestan says this is already possible online via email in about 35 US states. In 25 others, such as New York, by traditional mail only. Even in California, you can’t vote by e-mail yet, but you can vote by fax in addition to traditional mail if you consciously choose to avoid secrecy. Deadlines also differ from state to state. In some cases the postmark of November 3 counts, in others the postmark of election day.
Win voters in Germany
Both Republicans and Democrats are currently seeking help from voters. Candice Kerestan always recommends a visit to the homepage (www.democratsabroad.org). Before the election deadline in her home state of Pennsylvania, she herself spent an entire night emailing about 500 people she knew from high school and college to get them to vote: “You signed up?” the 27-year-old, who is graduating in political science from the University of Bonn.
Her campaigns focused on encouraging old members to cast their final votes and attracting new voters previously unknown to the Democrats Abroad. “We’re setting up information booths where Americans like to be,” says Candice Kerestan. This included relevant cafes and restaurants, as well as markets. In addition to the 28 board members, there are 200 volunteers in Germany to support the “Democrats Abroad”. Sometimes they are annoyed by the Germans. “We always have to answer the same questions,” says Candice Kerestan with a sigh. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your country?” She added that there was a constant need to explain that Trump is not America. Many Americans, like herself, think very differently.
She is convinced that the majority of American citizens living in Germany vote democratically. “They know the good health system here, the easy access to education and they also want to realize this in their own country.” Corona also boosted the motivation to vote. Unlike four years ago, the vote this time is not so sure of victory. “Of course we hope that Joe Biden wins. But we fight to the last second”
There will be no election party. After all, the German Democrats meet on election night at Zoom. “We are flexible”, says the chairman. The Republicans are not planning a party at the moment either, “because it doesn’t fit the time either”.
No dollars for the Republicans
George Weinberg likes to emphasize that the “Republicans Overseas” do not receive money from the US: “Not a cent!” One of the goals that Republicans in Germany are pursuing is to exempt American citizens living here from filing a US tax return. These tax returns are very tedious and very expensive, especially for businesses. He doesn’t know how many Republicans there are in Germany. However, he knows many top executives and entrepreneurs are close to the Republicans. “But they don’t say it publicly.” That would also be unwise and potentially harm their companies, he says, “given the hatred and unrest in the German media against President Donald Trump.” This mood is completely incomprehensible to him. When asked what reasons from his point of view argue in favor of Donald Trump, he begins to list some of the 50 points he has written down. In the first three years before the pandemic broke out, he created nearly 10 million jobs, “ended bad contracts that Obama signed” and fought ISIS very successfully. He knows from the e-mail comments he receives about his television appearances, “that here in Germany too many educated, intelligent, well-informed people” can follow his argument. China plays a big role. Republicans loved the Internet on Fox TV. Weinberg doesn’t mind CNN that much. “Even Al Jazeera is more objective than that.”
The Aspen Institute is also closely following the elections. This is even easier than it used to be, because in virtual meetings it does not matter which side of the Atlantic the participants in the discussion are on. “Suddenly the world is one big living room”, says Aspen director Rüdiger Lentz happily. His goal is to get a differentiated picture, to become aware of things that have been missed. “The Germans are rushing to Trump and cementing their enemy,” he says. “As if it were Beelzebub versus Savior.” But all is not wrong just because Trump says it is. “And even if Joe Biden becomes president, the conflicts will not be resolved.” He expects China, the trade balance problem and arms cooperation to be further discussed and argued. “Only that will be done in a kinder tone.” He tries to be honest. “Trump has put a number of things on the agenda that belong there.” He too was chosen because he reflected the silent majority.
Rüdiger Lentz is one of the co-initiators of the virtual election event on November 3, which will also focus on the participants’ personal links with the US. For the post-election period, he believes the ability to compromise will emerge in the future. “We are no longer just friends and partners, but also opponents of interests.” At the Aspen Institute it is important to portray both sides.