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Overseas voting: online for the 1st time

Image: A Hillary Clinton supporter attends a U.S. Global Primary voting station iin London
A Hillary Clinton supporter oversees a voting station for Americans in London on Tuesday. The group American Democrats Abroad organized voting in 33 countries for Democrats who wanted to participate in Super Tuesday.Toby Melville / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Americans seeking a change in foreign policy and a new national image abroad flocked to churches in Rome, town halls in England and an Irish pub in Hong Kong on Tuesday to vote in a Democrats Abroad primary.

The voting will determine who gets the 11 votes allocated to Democrats Abroad at the Democratic National Convention in August. The group is allowing online voting - a first for voters overseas - that will continue for one week.

Porchester Hall in central London was jammed with high-spirited voters Tuesday evening as rival groups backing Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama chanted and waved banners for their candidates.

Republicans, meanwhile, made their Super Tuesday choices known through absentee ballots and predicted their party would unite behind whomever is nominated and keep control of the White House.

Most Democrats abroad focused on the razor's edge contest between Clinton and Obama.

"I'm voting for Hillary. I'd like to see a woman in the White House," said Alison Kurke, who was first in line to vote at the American Episcopal Church of St. Paul's in Rome. "I think she can hit the ground running. She's got the experience, she's got the brains."

But James McGuire, a 24-year-old Web site developer from Massachusetts who traveled to Rome from the Umbrian town of Orvieto, favored Obama.

"I think it's one of the most important in years," he said of the 2008 election. "If we do not get Barack Obama in the presidency, then we will have two families for over 20 years in the American political system. And I think that's unacceptable."

Americans voting overseas on Super Tuesday said they were particularly influenced by the candidates' foreign policy credentials. Democrats said they wanted a president who would steer the U.S. away from the Bush administration's foreign policies, which have alienated many allies.

"We need a dramatic change in tone and tenor, and we need someone who truly, genuinely understands other cultures and can project that to the world," said Clifford Aron, 50, a businessman from Brooklyn who lives in Warsaw, Poland.

Turnout for the Democrats Abroad primary was expected to be high and results will be announced later this month.

Robert Bell of Democrats Abroad in Canada said he voted online. He expects a record turnout in Canada, in part because of the online option. He said an independent company is managing the online vote.

"It's quite secure," Bell said. "Each participant who is on our database is given a random number with which they can access this third party site and then they have to sign in with the particular information that they would know, so I feel it's quite secure."

Republicans Abroad did not have live or online voting. Republicans Abroad U.K. chairman Miki Bowman conceded the Democrats seem more energized now but predicted this would change after the candidates are chosen.

"I think our candidates are much less polarizing than the Democratic candidates and we're confident whoever gets nominated has the likelihood of winning the presidency," she said.

Mary Jo Jacobi, a longtime Londoner and former adviser to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, predicted the GOP would get a lift if Clinton is nominated.

"The party might be at a loss right now as to who to nominate, but Hillary Clinton is a galvanizing force and if she's at the top of the ticket you can be assured there will be a strong Republican turnout," said Jacobi.

U.S. voters who want to vote in the primaries of their home states may do so by absentee ballot, with the deadline for voting varying from state to state. For most Super Tuesday primary states, the deadline was Tuesday.

The Democrats Abroad voting started at the stroke of midnight in Indonesia, where Obama lived as a child.

In Hong Kong, Tim Fletcher, an assistant professor from North Carolina, was among about 200 Americans who cast ballots after work in a downtown Irish bar.

"After the past eight years of total trouble in the U.S., both internationally and domestically, I think it's important (to vote)," Fletcher said, sipping his pint of beer after voting for Clinton.

Dozens of people stopped by a polling both in downtown Tokyo.

"I love that we get to cast the first votes on the Super Tuesday primary day," said Lauren Shannon, a Pennsylvania native and chairwoman of Democrats Abroad in Japan. "I see a significant difference between concerns of voters abroad and at home, and I feel we should have an individual voice."