Go vote, say last minute calls from Americans in India

November 4th, 2008 - 4:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaNew Delhi, Nov 4 (IANS) Thousands of US phones have been ringing with last minute reminders to go to the poll booth for the presidential elections Tuesday - and many of them were made right here from India.Thirty six-year-old Sridhar Venkatesh, an Indian American living in Chennai, has been working his fingers for the last one week. “I think I have made nearly 60 phone calls whenever I got time between work,” he told IANS on the eve of one of America’s most historic presidential elections.

While most Americans living overseas have already posted their ballots, they are still eager to be part of history being made in their country, whichever way the results go for Democrat Barack Obama or Republican John McCain.

There are rough estimates of 60,000 to 80,000 US citizens living in India.

In New Delhi, six members of Democrats Abroad-India - a corpus of volunteers - made over 200 calls to some of the key swing states on Sunday night, urging citizens to make the journey to the local booth and cast their vote - preferably for their presidential candidate, Obama.

“We went to Obama’s campaign website where they have listed phone numbers of voters in the swing states. So we called up some 200 people, to say that they should vote and talking about Barack Obama,” said Carolyn Sauvage-Mar, the Democrats Abroad country chairman.

After the joint phone session, the volunteers had also been making calls on their own, she said.

It has been a year-long effort for the Democrats Abroad India committee, which had been organising a series of events from voter registration to voting for the Democrat primaries and facilitating the shipment of postal ballots.

“I think we spent nearly $2,000,” said Sauvage-Mar.

Participation in the US elections is expected to reach an all-time high.

“By mid-October, the embassy had already processed more registrations and ballots than in the entire 2004 campaign. Since most requests come in the last weeks of the campaign, elections officials at the embassy expect the total number of registrations and ballots handled this year to be more than double what they were in 2004,” said Elizabeth Fitzsimmons, the US embassy spokesperson.

Interestingly, while most Americans abroad have posted their ballots well in advance to their respective home counties, there are still queries from some at the last minute, wondering if they can still vote.

“Some states do accept votes by fax, like California, while others accept postal ballots if it is postmarked Nov 4,” said Sauvage-Mar.

For Venkatesh in Chennai, there have been a lot of queries from American citizens of Indian origin, who have not voted before in elections and have returned to India for better job prospects.

“As late as Friday, I managed to get such a person registered and post the ballot,” he said.

Venkatesh had some interesting conversations with voters in Nevada state, where he had made calls.

“I sometimes got interesting reactions when I told them that I am based in India. For example, one caller said like the phone call had been ‘outsourced’ to India, maybe the administration could also be outsourced here,” said Sridhar, who moved to Chennai about a year ago.

While the US embassy has organised a party to monitor the election results as they start trickling in from early Wednesday morning India time, the six city chapters of Democrats Abroad India have also booked restaurants at Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai for breakfast get-togethers.

“I am very superstitious, so I don’t want to say anything about the results,” said Sauvage-Mar.

While the Democrats in India have been operating for nearly four years, the Republican supporters got their own country committee just this year.

“There is a perception that most Americans in India are Republicans. Also, Republicans are quite close-mouthed about their support, especially after the rough eight years (of the Bush administration),” said Republicans Abroad India chairman Renee Nielsen, who is in Mumbai with her Danish husband and two children.

She felt that the Indian media had put too much spotlight on Obama. “The race has tightened and I believe it will be extraordinarily close. So, if John McCain wins, I will be interested to see how the Indian media will explain it,” she told IANS.

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