Right in the middle of election season, I moved from Virginia to Mumbai, India, where I work at the U.S. Consulate. Even though, as an absentee voter without access to cable TV, I can watch the debates and read U.S. news online, I sometimes catch myself feeling more like an outside observer than an active participant in the political process -- and I believe that many other U.S. citizens living overseas feel the same way.
That is one reason why I was so pleased to bring some U.S. campaign excitement to India by helping to stage a voting party for U.S. citizens. Mumbai's American Citizen Services Unit transformed our consular waiting hall into a small piece of the United States abroad, with American classics playing on the speakers, popcorn from a theatre-style machine, and a red-white-and-blue balloon arch. Attendees dropped their absentee ballots in a giant, star-spangled ballot box, while hamburgers, pizza, chicken nuggets, and a buttercream flag-shaped cake served up a taste of home.
Presidential trivia questions punctuated the evening, as citizens whose wallets haven't carried greenbacks in years tried to recall which presidents appear on various denominations of U.S. currency. Who knew that William McKinley was pictured on the $500 bill? Who knew that we ever had a $500 bill?
Along the way, I picked up not only presidential trivia, but a few lessons on our election process as well. A team of trained consular staff assisted voters with completing and addressing their ballots correctly, sometimes a complicated procedure given each state's slightly different procedures. Emptying the voting material from our giant ballot box after the event demonstrated the party's wide-reaching success: U.S. citizen voters had deposited hundreds of absentee ballots and absentee voter registration forms for us to forward to their local election commissions. Those ballots included votes cast by our very own Consul General, Peter Haas, as well as several first-time voters, our local U.S. Marines, and even an Indian-American Bollywood star.
After the event was over, I was pleased to see that I wasn't the only party-goer who gained a morale boost from the event. U.S. citizens posted comments on our Facebook page and sent emails describing the party as an example of the "American spirit" and "democracy in action!" For these attendees, the consulate filled the important role of serving as a home away from home. Indians observed our democracy in action, too, as the event garnered extensive local and international media coverage.
For much of this election season, U.S. citizens living here in the world's largest democracy will observe the U.S. election action from afar. This time, though, at least for one night, the U.S. Consulate brought American election excitement directly to them.