LONDON — While Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Tuesday were looking to southern states and New England for a super-sized boost, a little noticed contest was getting underway in numerous cities around the world.
Indeed, the first votes cast for presidential hopefuls on Super Tuesday were not in the United States, but in New Zealand, one of 41 countries where U.S. citizens living abroad can cast a vote in the Democrats Abroad Global Primary, an official contest with delegates up for grabs.
Founded in 1964 in London and Paris, Democrats Abroad is the expat wing of the Democratic Party and in the primaries is effectively treated as a “state” with 21 delegates at stake — roughly the same number as Alaska and Wyoming.
The Republican Party doesn’t have a similar global primary, although expats from either party can vote in their home states via absentee ballots.
Because of the international date line — New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of Washington — expats living in the tiny island nation at the bottom of the world were the first to cast a vote on Super Tuesday, and did so in typical laid-back Kiwi fashion: They met at a bar.
Just after midnight local time, 28 Americans gathered at the Public Bar and Eatery in downtown Wellington and cast votes for their preferred president: Twenty-one people voted for Sanders and six for Clinton. One voter spoiled his ballot, perhaps inevitable given the setting.
“Our turnout was small,” Kat Allikian, chair of Democrats Abroad New Zealand, said in a statement. “But like our fellow Americans in Dixville Notch, N.H., we’ve made our voices heard about the issues that matter to us," she said, referring to the small town in New Hampshire that also hosts midnight voting.
Organizers said they were expecting big turnouts in Canada, Mexico and the U.K., where Bernie Sanders’s older brother Larry cast his vote in Oxford, his adopted city since 1969.
— Drew Birrenkott (@dbirrenkott) March 1, 2016
Larry Sanders said in an interview after voting that he was cautiously optimistic about Bernie’s results on Super Tuesday. But he added, “I don’t think today will put a finish to anything.”
Early on Tuesday night, there was a pro-Sanders vibe at the Abbey Center in London, a short walk from the Palace of Westminster, and one of five polling stations across the country.
“I just love Bernie. He’s honest and I love his consistent message,” Michael Endres, 33, a business analyst originally from Boston said moments before he entered a voting station festooned with U.S. flags and colorful balloons.
Democrats Abroad organizers say they expect a bigger voter turnout this year than in 2008, when 23,000 votes were cast. (Barack Obama decisively beat Hillary Clinton, 66 perecent to 33 percent.)
Mike Heffron, a spokesman for Democrats Abroad based in Canberra, Australia, said that some expats prefer to vote in the “global primary” as a way to raise attention for issues that aren’t as important to their friends and family back home.
A key concern for expats are tax laws, he said, which are thought to be a big reason behind the growing number of Americans renouncing their citizenship. Unlike most countries in the world, the United States imposes taxes based on citizenship, not residence.
“Issues like tax issues can get lost if you send an absentee ballot to a big state like New York or Texas. But the dedicated primary candidates can address your specific concerns. You feel your voice is actually heard,” said Heffron.
American Democrats living abroad can vote in polling stations in over 100 cities, as well as by post or email. Voting ends on March 8, and results are announced on March 21.
Jay Sexton, director of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford, said one of the most significant things about the global primary was that it started the process of finding and mobilizing overseas voters ahead of the election in November.
“Twenty-one delegates today aren’t going to make the difference, but in the November election, overseas voters can make a big difference in a tight race,” he said.
"If there are 7 to 8 million Americans living abroad, that’s a significant voting bloc up for grabs,” he said.