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Democrats Abroad Participate In Election From Overseas

This story was written by Ali Weinberg, Washington Square News

Among Florences picturesque medieval buildings and quaint restaurants, American presidential politics might seem very far away, if not forgotten entirely.

But not if Jo-Ann White has anything to do about it.

In 2005, White founded the Florence chapter of Democrats Abroad, an official Democratic Party organization. The group works to mobilize the vote of American Democrats living overseas. It also sends 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, as the party considers itself the 51st American state.

Because Florence is a popular site for American students, many of the Democrats Abroad programs are held at study abroad campuses. This semester, NYUs villa La Pietra has hosted a series of events, including debate screenings and panel discussions with Italian professors and students. On Nov. 21, the NYU site will host a postelection conference featuring The New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum.

Membership consists of a few key demographics.

A lot of people who are retired, they come here; its their dream come true, out in the hills, picking olives, White said. Then there are the legions of professors at American campuses in Florence, a perennial study-abroad favorite.

Because of Democrats Abroad, White says her involvement in American politics has increased rather than diminished. She represented Democrats Abroad at this years Democratic National Convention as one of the organizations 22 elected delegates.

It may be the most thrilling thing Ive ever done personally in my life, White said.

White said being able to attend the Democratic National Convention as a delegate was an opportunity for her to spread the word about, the website from which people living overseas can request an absentee ballot.

I was happy to talk to Italian, European press, whatever, White said. Were always trying to get out the vote.

Television interviews proved a challenge, as White was asked to do prime-time interviews on Italian time.

You werent getting a lot of sleep because you were having to do things that made sense in European time, because they wanted to do it live, she said.

While not every member of Democrats Abroad gets to be a delegate to the National Convention, White stressed the importance of being politically involved, regardless of affiliation or location.

The whole world is affected by our policies, she said.

And for those lucky enough to be drinking Chianti in a Tuscan trattoria on Election Day, White urged them not to lose sight of the importance of voting.

Very often Ill find an American who says, Oh, Im not living in the States anymore, so Im not really going to vote, she said. And I bet you theres not an Italian here who wouldnt gladly trade to be able [to vote], because they know how much it matters.

Ali Weinberg is a contributing writer. E-mail her at