Poll fever hits Embassy

Wendy Kolls and Polli Brunelli, Director, Federal Voting Assistance Program

As polling stations around America brace themselves for long queues of voters, voting assistance officers at US Embassies around the world have for months been hard at work encouraging an estimated 4.4 million US citizens living abroad to vote.

The US Embassy in London, with one of the largest American expatriate communities in the world, has been no exception. “We’ve been very busy,” said vice-consul Wendy Kolls.

The voting assistance officer started early this year – well before the Primary elections — encouraging American citizens in the UK to register and exercise their right to vote.

Over the summer staff organised voting assistance training workshops for a range of American citizen groups.

“We regularly provide American citizens living in the UK with up-to-date information on voting issues using a variety of means – our online newsletter, the Embassy website and our outreach activities,” said Kolls.

While the citizens do not vote at the Embassy, they can obtain the required paperwork and guidance to apply for absentee ballots.

The Embassy offers to send applications for absentee ballots (Federal Post Card Application forms or FPCAs) and completed absentee ballot forms via diplomatic pouch.

The Embassy also has back-up ballots (the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot) that can be used if an absentee ballot form fails to arrive in time.

“We are always available to assist American citizens directly with their voting questions, answering their letters, emails, telephone calls, and assisting them in person when they visit the Embassy,” says Kolls.

The hive of activity on Grosvenor Square is matched at US Embassies around the world. US diplomats in New Delhi estimated that four times as many Americans asked for voting assistance this year as in 2004, while the numbers of citizens sending absentee ballots via the US Embassy in Jamaica surged by 600% and more than 800 Americans went to the US Embassy in Buenos Aires to mail their ballots.

After the polling stations close tonight, the US Embassy will be hosting a bipartisan election night party to watch the results come in. “It’s a chance for Americans and British involved in US-UK relations to come together and celebrate the democratic process,” says Kolls.

The party attracts a high-octane mix of celebrities, ministers, journalists and academics but the guest list is a closely guarded secret.