US citizen Lena Muldoon has long been obsessed with Buenos Aires. But since moving here, she’s become involved in re-launching Democrats Abroad Argentina, encouraging her fellow Americans to register to vote back home.
Giulia Petroni is a journalism student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Lena Muldoon is sitting in the back corner of Bànova, an ice cream shop between Güemes and Jorge Luis Borges streets, in the heart of Palermo Soho, the vibrant barrio that hosts Sunday morning craft fairs and impromptu jam sessions at the local park.
Muldoon, a US citizen, is explaining how she came to live in Buenos Aires. Her love story – what she calls an “obsession” – with the city started back in June 2012, when she was a 16-yearold student at an all-girls Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky. That year she got into an exchange programme and decided to spend a semester at the Colegio Santa Ethnea, in nearby Buenos Aires province.
Six years later, Lena is vicechair at Democrats Abroad Argentina, the nation’s official committee for the US Democratic party.
She’s now been living in the country for almost 18 months.
“It was the middle-end of 2017 when I moved here, [after] almost a year-and-a-half of Trump,” she says. “I felt the need to stay involved. As a citizen, there’s some sort of guilt in leaving your country.”
After laying dormant for many years, Democrats Abroad Argentina was re-established at the beginning of 2018, when Roz Reymers, a Democratic Party outreach coordinator for in the Americas region, reached out to US citizens living in Buenos Aires, in order to form a coalition.
The group came together in March, when some US citizens gathered in front of the US Embassy in Buenos Aires to hold a “March for our lives” protest, a call for the White House and lawmakers to take action on gun control in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
From then on, Lena and other volunteers started promoting initiatives to expand their network – from expats to study abroad students. In less than three months, they reached the quota needed to be officially recognised as a country committee.
Since May, their goal has been to encourage overseas citizens to register and vote for the crucial US midterms elections on November 6.
“I believe every American, whether a Democrat or a Republican, has the duty to vote,” said Andrew Milton, the chair of Democrats Abroad Argentina, who has been living in Buenos Aires for eight years. “I may not live in the US, but that doesn’t mean my family or my friends don’t.”
The process of registration consists in filling out a form with basic personal information, printing it and sending it to a local election official in the US via email or fax – postal deadlines depend on each state. What tends to stop people from voting is the lack of a digitalised system: they need a printer and they need to know how to send mail internationally.
“My first thought was ‘It’s going to be difficult,’” said Lidia Hernandez, who moved to Buenos Aires in March. “Then I realised how simple it was. It’s really just not having the information there.”
Lidia sent her absentee ballot last Friday – she didn’t have to use an international mail service nor go to the Embassy. California in fact is one of the few states allowing citizens who live abroad to email or fax the ballots directly to their country clerk.
To encourage people to vote and make the process easier, volunteers at Democrats Abroad Argentina have been organising voter registration drives twice a month. They pick a coffee shop or a restaurant popular among Americans and sit there for hours with a computer and a printer.
So far, their favourite hotspots have been Sheikob’s Bagels, Chicken Bros and Hell’s Pizza, the restaurant where dishes are named after famous US politicians, from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama.
“This entire year has been an experiment: what place works best, what time of the day, where to sit in a restaurant,” says Lena. “It’s our test drive for 2020.”
This year, 289 people in Argentina requested an absentee ballot through the Democrats Abroad voting platform. In the near future, the committee’s plan is to implement the engagement strategy and expand the range of activities – from fundraising to debate events.
In all, Democrats Abroad counts 42 country committees throughout Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In 2018, it helped 88,779 US citizens abroad get registered to vote, according to an internal report.
The organisation was founded in the 1960s to allow US citizens living and working abroad to participate in the political life of their country. Throughout the years, it has expanded across the globe, hitting a significant milestone in 1986, when Congress passed the “Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act,” legislation that removed legal obstacles to absentee voting for overseas citizens and ensured Americans living abroad could remain engaged with politics back home.
Lena’s own passion for politics dates back to her college years at DePaul University in Chicago, where she doublemajored in Women and Gender studies. There, she started going to political protests. Aged 21, she voted for the first time in the 2016 presidential elections.
“When you start out in a political space you are like a baby,” she says. “So Chicago was a little bit like my childhood.” But Lena's biggest influence has always been her mum, Susan, who introduced her to the political topics at a young age, from women rights to police misconduct.
“She raised me as a feminist even if she never used the word,” said Lena. “I remember she would tell men to f**k off if they harassed her on the streets.”
The candidates who could make history
Women, minorities and LGBTQ individuals are still underrepresented in the US government, but the 2018 midterms elections could make some headway toward achieving equality for those groups. Here are some of the people who may make a difference: Andrew Gillum, Democratic nominee for governor in Florida, could be the first African-American to lead his state; Stacey Abrams, Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia, the first African-American woman to lead any state. In Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, Republican nominee for an open Senate seat, could become the state’s first female senator; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic nominee for New York’s 14th Congressional district, the youngest woman in Congress. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, both Democratic nominees seeking House seats, could be the first Muslim-American women in Congress. Christine Hallquist, Democrat nominee in Vermont, the first transgender governor candidate by a major party; Paulette Jordan, Democratic nominee for governor in Idaho, the first Native American governor; and Michelle Lujan Grisham, Democratic nominee in New Mexico, could become the first Latina Democratic governor in the US.
What’s at stake for Democrats in the November 6 US midterms?
There are 435 seats in the US House of Representatives, 35 Senate races, 36 governorships, 6,066 or so state legislative seats, dozens of referenda, and many more state and local offices on the ballot. The key question is: will Republicans continue to have sole control of the federal government next year, or will Democrats win a house of Congress – more likely the lower House of Representatives – and gain the ability to check US President Donald Trump’s power? According to race ratings provided by the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, Democrats must flip at least 23 Republican-held seats to retake the House, and some of those are in key swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania.