A Brief History
American Democrats living and working abroad have contributed to the political life of the United States since its very beginning. The first famous Democrat, Thomas Jefferson, drafted the Bill of Rights while in Paris, France. Since then, many other Democrats residing in foreign countries have participated in U.S. politics. In the 1960s, Democrats living overseas began to organize themselves into a group, and Democrats Abroad was born.
Creation of Democrats Abroad
During the 1960 Presidential campaign between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Democrats in Paris and London began discussing ways they could help the Democratic Party. Four years later, they were ready.
Democrats Abroad first organized simultaneously in Paris and London in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater. Democrats in each of those cities formed committees and elected officers. Under the leadership of Toby Hyde (London) and Al Davidson (Paris), Democrats held parades and raised funds. The nascent committees also solicited votes, but few were cast from abroad because in 1964 U.S. citizens living overseas did not have a federal right to an absentee ballot.
The activities of Democrats Abroad in 1964 were the first U.S.-style political campaigns ever mounted in foreign countries; they aroused considerable local interest and generated wide publicity in France and England.
Democrats Abroad also attracted interest in the United States. John Bailey, the Chairman of the Democratic Party, on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, recognized the Paris and London committees, and the White House appointed James Rowe, a well-known political figure in Washington, as the liaison with President Johnson.
After the 1964 victory, Democrats Abroad continued to grow. In 1968, they campaigned for the Humphrey-Muskie ticket against Nixon and Agnew. Between the two elections, the leaders of Democrats Abroad started another campaign, one that would last twenty years and have a significant impact on all U.S. citizens living overseas: the campaign for full voting rights for U.S. citizens overseas.
The Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act of 1975 & The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA)
In the 1960s, Democrats Abroad were able to raise funds and generate publicity. Getting out the vote was another matter, since U.S. citizens overseas did not have the right to an absentee ballot. The issue was complicated by the state-based nature of voting regulations, even for voting in federal elections. Providing a federal right to vote required modifying all state voting systems.
The first demands for the right to vote by absentee ballot had been made more than 100 years earlier, in the 1860s, when Union soldiers fighting in the Civil War who wanted to vote had to return to their States for the election. In World War II, the issue of absentee ballots was raised again.
A century later, U.S. voters in the United States could vote by absentee ballot if they were unable to get to the polls on election day. It was not so easy for U.S. voters living overseas. To remedy the injustice, leaders of Democrats Abroad formed the Committee for Absentee Democrats Abroad Voting, a bi-partisan group with the Republicans, and began a ten-year struggle to expand the franchise to overseas U.S. citizens.
Hubert Humphrey and Bob Strauss were early supporters. In the Congress, Senator Claiborne Pell and Representative Thompson were formidable leaders in the campaign to end the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens living and working all over the world.
During the final days of the 94th Congress, House Majority Leader Tip O'Neill engineered the passage of "The Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act of 1975" through a crowded calendar. President Ford signed the Act into law in January 1976. Many Americans, however, refrained from voting while overseas because they feared tax consequences. In 1977-78, Dean Ferrier and Peter Alegi led the efforts to resolve this problem. In November 1978 Congress modified the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act to make clear that exercising a vote in a federal election would not by itself cause any state, local or federal tax consequences. With this solid base, Democrats Abroad then helped convince Congress to pass the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986, which laid the legal basis for a vast expansion of access to voting by Americans residing abroad. Each year more local barriers are removed as the federal legislation is enforced at the state and local level. This breakthrough legislation has swept away almost all important legal obstacles to absentee voting by Americans abroad.
In 2001, following major election irregularities in Florida, Democrats Abroad began a campaign to amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to remove further obstacles to overseas voting. Chair Smallhoover and Executive Director Fina hired a Republican lobbyist to help gain access to members of the then-Republican majority. Many, but not all, of our proposals were embodied in the Help America Vote Act of 2002. These included permanent registration for two full federal election cycles (rather than one previously) and the collection of statistics on overseas absentee voting never before available.
Democrats Abroad also began to play a major role in the inclusion of overseas Americans in the decennial census. Chair Smallhoover and Executive Director Fina, with the support of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, won the agreement of the Bureau of the Census to begin a series of trial counts after the completion of the 2000 Census to determine whether the inclusion of overseas Americans would be feasible for the 2010 Decennial Census. This trial period was begun in 2004.
The Democratic Party was far ahead of its Republican rivals in understanding and recognizing the potential political power of political rights of U.S. citizens overseas. Chairpersons of the Democratic Party since 1964 have granted increasing recognition to Democrats Abroad. John Bailey, Larry O'Brien, Bob Strauss, Chuck Manatt, Don Fowler, Ron Brown, David Wilhelm, Steven Grossman, Joe Andrew, Howard Dean, Tim Kaine and Debbie Wasserman-Schulz have all shown support for Democrats Abroad.
As a result of the view taken by the Democratic Party and its successive chairpersons, Democrats Abroad has made steady progress achieving official status within the organizational framework of the Democratic Party. Each year brought new advances:
1972: Chairman O'Brien grants nine non-voting delegates to Democrats Abroad for the National Convention in Miami. Nine Democrats Abroad from four countries attend.
1973: Chairman Strauss gives Democrats Abroad representation on the Democratic Charter Commission, a group of 160 leading Democrats from all States in the Union.
1976: Eight Country Committees form the Democratic Party Committee Abroad (the DPCA) and the DPCA's by-laws are filed with the DNC in Washington, D.C.
1976: The Party Call to the 1976 National Convention gives Democrats Abroad voting delegates, enabling us to participate directly for the first time in the selection of the Party's presidential nominee.
1976: Committees in Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland and the United Kingdom hold an election for delegates to the National Convention New York City. A delegation of nine Democrats Abroad attends. International Chair Toby Hyde casts the final votes in the roll call to nominate Jimmy Carter.
1976: Democrats Abroad begins its campaign with members of the Democratic National Committee (the DNC) for an amendment to the Charter of the Democratic Party in order to give Democrats Abroad membership on the DNC.
1977: Bob Strauss, the Chairman of the Democratic Party, grants time to the DPCA Chair, Toby Hyde, to persuade the full DNC to grant DNC membership to Democrats Abroad. The DNC amends the Charter of the Democratic Party and gives the DPCA four members on the DNC, having one aggregate vote.
1977: FEC Advisory Opinion (AO 1976-112) finds that Democrats Abroad is a party committee and that transfers of funds between party committees are not subject to contribution limits. But, the FEC also found that Democrats Abroad cannot be granted the status of a state party committee but must be a subordinate of the national party committee. (See also 13 July 1990 opinion of Patton, Boggs.)
1978: Democrats Abroad is given six voting delegates to the National Party Conference, and the DPCA holds its third international election to choose delegates.
In the 1980s, Democrats Abroad continued the progress of the 1970s and expanded the activities of Democrats Abroad within the organization of the Democratic Party, particularly in the Association of State Democratic Chairs:
1980: More than 1900 Democrats participate in the Democrats Abroad Worldwide Postal Primary and elect 4 delegates and alternates to the National Convention in New York City. The delegation's Tshirts and political songs are a big hit and generate publicity.
1981: Washington Liaison position created by DPCA Chair Andy Sundberg; Martha Hartman was first appointee.
1982: A Democrats Abroad delegation of 12 (consisting of the DPCA Chair and Vice-Chair, the DNC members-at-large, and eight voting delegates and alternates) attend the Party Conference in Philadelphia.
1982: DPCA sponsors the first overseas political seminar in Brussels for Democrats Abroad, covering fundraising and public relations.
1983: Democrats Abroad is granted one voting representative on each of the four regional caucuses of the DNC.
1984: More than 2500 Democrats participate in the Democrats Abroad Worldwide Postal Primary, a 20% increase. The primary receives broad press coverage because its unique timing provides results ahead of the primaries occurring on the same day in the United States.
1984: A Democrats Abroad delegation of 20 attends the National Convention in San Francisco. DPCA Chair Andrew Sundberg casts the delegation's five votes in the roll call on behalf of the "more than 2,000,000 U.S. citizens living and working outside the United States."
1985: Democrats Abroad absorbs the Latin American Democratic Party (LADP), thus becoming the only entity at the DNC representing Americans residing outside the U.S. and its territories.
1985: Eugene Theroux appointed Exec Director and Thomas Fina Deputy Exec Director by DPCA Chair Dean Ferrier.
1986: Membership on the DNC and the number of delegates to the Democratic National Convention allocated to Democrats Abroad are doubled as a result of the merger with LADP.
1985: Thomas Fina appointed volunteer Executive Director.
1986: Monthly “Letter from Washington” begun by Executive Director Fina.
1986: First direct mail fund raising campaign run by the Executive Director, with DNC.
1986: DPCA Chair Dean Ferrier testifies before the House Subcommittee on Elections on behalf of amending the Voting Rights Bill to provide for the Write-in Ballot.
1987: The Democrats Abroad by-laws are amended to provide for increasing the numbers of electors eligible for electing members to the Democratic National Committee. Democrats Abroad Handbook 35 May 2012 1987: DPCA registers with the Federal Elections Commission.
1988: After an energetic effort, the Democrats Abroad primary is recognized as a state primary. As a result, all U.S. consular posts are ordered to distribute primary ballots to those Democrats residing overseas who wish to participate in the overseas primary.
1988: First international meeting held outside Europe. 55 overseas Democrats from 12 countries attend a DPCA meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, before the Democratic National Convention.
1989: The number of country committees reaches 20.
In the 1990s, Democrats Abroad reached out even more to Democrats around the world, and made its voice heard on a number of important issues in Washington:
1990: Democrats Abroad discusses plans for changing the method of selecting delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Chair Sam Garst, a native Iowan, creates a caucus system used in all subsequent elections. 1990: Patton, Boggs & Blow memorandum of 13 July, 1990, advises DPCA and DNC of the legal status of Democrats and Republicans Abroad and explained that both must register with the FEC. Basis for our later forcing Republicans Abroad to register.
1991: Democrats Abroad adopts caucus system to elect Convention delegates.
1992: Democrats Abroad launches first international coordinated campaign. First ad campaign in major international newspapers supporting Democratic candidates cost $26,000.
1992: Democrats Abroad successfully carries out a caucus system for the selection of our presidential preference and our delegates to the New York Convention. Members gather in local, regional, and global caucuses to cast their votes in an outstanding example of global democracy.
1993: Representatives from fifteen country committees attend President Clinton's inauguration.
1993: November: Chairman Peter Alegi launches campaign to include overseas Americans in President Clinton’s universal health care system.
1993: On advice of the Executive Director, the DPCA hires former Republican Chief of Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to lobby for inclusion of overseas Americans. Country committees around the world contribute to funding.
1993: Democrats Abroad begins quarterly electronic publication in Paris of theOverseas Democrat under the editorship of Lois Grjebine and with technical support from Tom Fina. This is the first DPCA newsletter designed to provide country committees with ready-made text for local mailings.
1993: By unanimous vote, Democrats Abroad revises its bylaws in accordance with the changed political and administrative needs of a truly global organization. An Executive Committee is created to streamline management. DNC membership positions reserved for election by each of major world regions: Europe and Middle East, Asia, the Americas.
1994: Clinton Health Care legislation defeated in October, but our efforts had gotten overseas Americans included in drafts before the debacle.
1994: Democrats Abroad testifies on reform of citizenship legislation, suggesting "one-stop shopping," i.e., allowing applications to be filed abroad. The House sub-committee immediately accepts this idea and incorporates it into the bill, which becomes effective March 1, 1995.
1995: Executive Director arranges first time visit by delegation of Democrats Abroad to Oval Office led by Chair Peter Alegi to meet individually with President Clinton.
1995: Alice Lauthers succeeds deceased husband to be volunteer Assistant Treasurer in US.
1995: Incoming Chair Sally McNulty arranges successful European tour of Democrats Abroad by immediate past DNC Chair, David Wilhelm, who visits London, Paris, and Heidelberg.
1996: First non-European officer elected to DPCA— Carolyn Hansen from Taiwan.
1996: First non-European DNC member elected— Maureen Keating Tsuchiya from Japan.
1996: Executive Director negotiates procedure with Clinton White House to include Democrats Abroad in Presidential visits abroad. Democrats Abroad Handbook 36 May 2012
1996: Creation of first Democrats Abroad website by Executive Director (www.democratsabroad.org ) in Washington overseen by Vice Chair Joe Smallhoover with webmaster in US; the site includes links to country committee websites. This made Democrats Abroad the first State Party to have a website.
1996: In order to make distribution of Overseas Democrat more rapid and less costly, operation shifted to Ruth McCreery in Yokohama who prepares page layouts that are transmitted as pdf files to web master who up-loads them to Democrats Abroad website for instant downloading and printing by country committees.
1996: DPCA Secretary takes over keeping of records of DPCA and Country Committee officer directory.
1996: DPCA convention in Toronto adopts resolution asking for inclusion of overseas Americans in census.
1996: E-mail begins to supplant fax as predominant communications medium with significant reduction in communications cost despite increased volume of communication.
1997: Sally McNulty leads Democrats Abroad in successful effort to maintain Section 911 of the tax code, the $70,000 exclusion of earned income from U.S. federal income tax.
1997: Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke attends gala Democrats Abroad fundraiser in Paris. 1998: US funds transferred from Citibank, NY, to Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust, Alexandria, VA for better and more economical service as volume of income increased.
1999: June: Chairman Smallhoover testified before House Committee on Census in support of inclusion of overseas Americans in 2010 Decennial Census.
2000: In January, Andrew Goldberg is appointed Deputy Executive Director. First paid DPCA employee.
2000: DPCA spends $115,000 for 2000 campaign advertising in Israel, Mexico, Canada,Stars & Stripes, USA Today and the International Herald Tribune.
2000: DPCA spends $115,000 for 2000 campaign advertising in Israel, Mexico, Canada, Stars & Stripes, USA Today and the International Herald Tribune.
2000: Executive Director creates Emergency Committee to Reform Overseas Voting (ECROV) to provide proposals to reform Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Voting Act (UOCAVA) in light of 2000 election irregularities.
2001: DPCA hires lobbyist to help win changes in overseas absentee voting legislation.
2001: Executive Director testifies before House Committee on Census in support of inclusion of overseas Americans in decennial census of 2010. 2001: Help America Vote Act (HAVA) becomes law in October; it embodies important proposals made by ECROV. 2001: Andrew Goldberg becomes Executive Director upon the retirement of Thomas Fina, who becomes Executive Director Emeritus.
2004: At the National Convention, Democrats Abroad is moved forward in the roll call to its proper alphabetical order.
2008: The voting weight of Democrats Abroad is increased at the National Convention.
2008: Regional caucuses held to elect DNC regional representatives and delegates to the 2008 DNC Convention in Colorado. Global meeting held in Vancouver to elect further delegates and DNC members.
2008: Autumn meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, results in the creation of a formalized Resolution process and Resolutions Committee.
2009: The MOVE Act is signed into law by President Obama, written specifically to address problems encountered by overseas voters. Democrats Abroad quickly adopts new voter registration procedures and begins monitoring states’ compliance with the law.
2010: International meeting in Florence, Italy. The DPCA Bylaws Committee presents the first draft of improvements to move towards proportional representation worldwide. The Czech Republic joins Democrats Abroad as an official country committee.
2010: Tim Kaine, DNC Chair, visits Paris.
2011: Tim Kaine, DNC Chair, visits London.
2011: International meeting in Seoul, Korea. Bylaws passed unanimously. Autumn meeting in Washington DC includes Doorknocks, which result in the formation of the FBAR/FACTA Taskforce. Democrats Abroad Handbook 37 May 2012
2012: First Global Primary held in May 2012. Number of delegates from Democrats Abroad to the DNC Convention increases. The number of Country Committees reaches 51. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz distributes a video thanking Democrats Abroad members.
2014: 50th Anniversary of Democrats Abroad celebrated in Washington DC.
2016: Ecuador joins Democrats Abroad as an official country committee.
The following have served as Chair of the DPCA since it was first granted membership in the DNC in 1977:
Democrats Abroad International Chairs
- Kathryn Solon 2013 - Current
- Ken Sherman 2011-2013
- Christine Schon Marques 2007-2011
- Michael Cuervorst 2005-2007
- Rachelle Valladare 2003-2005
- Joseph Smallhoover 1999-2003
- Sally McNulty 1995-1999
- Peter C. Alegi 1991-1995
- Judi Rosenthal 1990-1991
- Sam Garst 1989-1990
- Dean Ferrier 1985-1989
- Andrew Sundberg 1981-1985
- Anthony Hyde 1976-1981