How will eligible Australians vote in the US election?


On November 3, the US will go to the polls to decide whether Donald Trump is returned for a second term or if Joe Biden takes his place. Five Australian Greens members with a US vote consider whether they should offer solidarity to the Greens or the more centrist Democrats.

By Leon Zembekis, Leslie Fraser, Lynn MacLaren, Larry Abel and Annette Herrera

During the 2016 US presidential election contest, filmmaker Michael Moore predicted that Donald Trump would win, despite the media’s prediction that Hillary Clinton would win.

He was right – Trump won, shocking polite society and still, Michael Moore asked in his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, ‘how the fuck did this happen?'

With Trump at the helm, many feel the US no longer holds the moral high ground. It was easier for many to accept articulate, urbane leaders like Kennedy, Clinton and Obama to steer the ship of the American empire.

In victory, Obama gave the Democrats the majority in both houses, doing nothing to reform the biased electoral system that maintains the undemocratic Electoral College and ‘first past the post’ electoral system.

What was Obama’s legacy? He kept the same crooks as Bush to run the economy. Backed the white cops killing blacks. He dropped more bombs and did more drone killings than Bush, televised the spectacle of sharing Clinton, Biden’s company of special forces illegally entering another country to kill Osama bin Laden, and watching the wealth gap between rich and poor continue to grow whilst mocking Flint residents drinking water concerns.

The Democrats are so compromised, their super delegates cheated Bernie Sanders in West Virginia, giving the victory to Hillary Clinton in 2016 despite having fewer votes. Presently, Democrats are working the courts overtime to take Greens candidates off ballots. 

Trump’s win was no aberration. The marketing spin of the Democrats and establishment Republicans was no barrier to Trump, who was able to present himself to the left of his rivals. The door opened for Trump when his crude style resonated with working class people tired of polished political spin.   

There is global trending towards right-wing governments, a reaction to the legacy of progressive governments. In 2019 we witnessed a progressive Bill Shorten Labor party agenda lose out to Morrison’s do-nothing agenda – and we Greens hooked no more MPs or larger vote.  

So will Trump reap 2020?

Again, the Electoral College took the conservative path to elect pro-war, pro-market forces, anti-Obama’s universal health care Joe Biden over socialist Bernie Sanders.   

As Australian Greens, we experience daily the uphill battles to convince voters that their vote will not be wasted on us. We argue our preferences spill to the Australian Labor Party ahead of the Liberals. We do this because many of us are exALP voters or members, whose politics align in traditions of unionism, anti-war activism, environmentalism, refugee support, land rights and a socialist light at the end of the tunnel.

As Greens, we have an international Green movement. Shit, we even exported Jack Mundey’s Green movement globally, and the US is no exception, with eco-socialist Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker running as presidential and vice presidential candidates.  

For Australian Greens with a US vote, who should you be offering your solidarity to?

The Democrats have proven time and time again that they are another corporate party for the rich and nasty. The US Greens share our charter and historical links, and are fighting a tough battle with the ‘first past the post’ electoral system.

Below are four opinions of Australian Greens with a US vote – how will they cast their ballots?

Leslie Fraser

Darebin Branch, Victoria

My name is Leslie Fraser and I have lived in Melbourne since 1975. I’m a dual citizen. I try to vote in all US presidential elections. I’ve been a member of the Australian Greens since the mid-2000s. 

The US electoral system is winner-takes-all. I have voted for the US Green Party in the past; however, this time my priority is getting rid of Trump. As there would be no flow of preferences, a vote for the Green Party would deprive the Democrats of my support. When Noam Chomsky said four years ago that the current greatest threat to the survival of humanity was the Republican Party, I agreed and still agree. Thus I decided I had to vote for the Biden-Harris ticket as the faintly more progressive and climate-oriented of the two major parties.

In fact, I have already voted. My home state of New Hampshire requires a postal ballot. By early September, Democrats Abroad had already sent me several emails and telephoned me twice, warning me about Trump-instigated delays with the US postal service. Thus I was pleased when the town clerk of my hometown emailed me my absentee ballot earlier than usual.

As soon as my ballot arrived in my inbox, I printed it and filled it out, voting for the Biden and Harris for President and Vice President, and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen for the Senate and Ann McLane Kuster for the House of Representatives. (I also had to sign an affidavit confirming my identity and declaring that I hadn’t voted in any other electorate). I fully recognised that New Hampshire only has four Electoral College votes, and polling suggests is likely to be a ‘blue state’ this election anyway. Nonetheless, my single vote suddenly took on a vast symbolic weight in my mind.

So believing I could not trust the US postal service to deliver my ballot by November 3, I decided to send it via a delivery service. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that during our Stage 4 lockdown, FedEx and DHL service centres were either closed or outside my 5km radius of permitted movement. I wound up sending it by express post to a friend who lives in Canberra, and she took it to the DHL office in Fyshwick. It proved to be an expensive way to vote but at least I have an assurance from them that it will arrive in plenty of time on October 1.

I literally blocked my nose while I voted for Biden and Harris (I always do this as my partner thinks it’s hilarious). Yes, I know a great deal about their flaws, shortcomings and the undesirable aspects of their records. And yes, I fully realise there is no real left in the mainstream US political spectrum, which (at best) runs from centre to far right. However, Biden has adopted major sections of Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal, and he has promised to throw major dollars at climate restoration. He used the language ‘existential threat’ just the other day. And, most importantly, I felt I had to be certain that I had done everything I could do as an individual voter to deprive Trump of a second term.

Lynn MacLaren

Fremantle – Tangney Regional Group(branch) and former Greens WA MLC

I was born in the USA and as a first-time voter was among the 5,719,850 voters for independent John Anderson in the 1980 presidential election. Ronald Reagan won in a landslide. I stayed away from politics for more than a decade after moving to Australia in 1983.

Then, in 1997, I couldn’t bear another term of John Howard, so I became a dual citizen to claim my voting rights in a country I called home. Howard won, but during the campaign I became completely committed to the Greens – even becoming an elected Member of Parliament from 2009 to 2017 (and in 2005 for three months) in the Western Australian Legislative Council.

In the ‘70s my favourite place to be early Saturday morning was in the front of the telly watching my favourite cartoons. Commercial breaks included silly jingles for sugary cereals but also an entertaining series of short videos, Schoolhouse Rock! This sneakily educated young minds (multiplication, grammar, science, etc.) during their day off school.

I can still sing my favourites from America Rock, which described the progress of a “lonely ol’ Bill up on Capitol Hill” and the mystery of the Electoral College, suffrage and the preamble of the Constitution of the United States. Yep: in animated songs. These educational videos were effective tools to teach adults about American government, too.

When I came to Australia as an adult I longed for a cartoon to explain preferential voting! I learned about preferential voting when, as activists against live exports, we ran a candidate in a marginal seat. We wanted to demonstrate that voters cared about sheep and cattle being shipped overseas for slaughter to suffer horribly. The preferential system gave us the opportunity to do that.

By voting one for our candidate and then preferencing their chosen candidate, they could send a message to the party they chose. At the time, only the Greens and Democrats opposed live exports. We suggested our voters choose them before the old party of their choice.

Australian preferential voting bemused my American friends and family for years, but now there are elections across the USA using a system of ranked choice voting. It is here that the Greens can make the most difference. Over the past two years I travelled and lived in the US, voting for the first time in the 2018 midterm election.

I registered as a Green and talked with some of the members in the Pacific Green party of Oregon – but when it came time for the election, there were no Greens on my ballot paper.

This election is different. Ranked choice voting will be used for the first time in Oregon to elect the County Commissioner. Mike Beilstein, a long time Green party member, is running. The party is taking a strategic approach to build support for statewide implementation of ranked choice voting, following Maine’s lead where the Greens’ Lisa Savage is taking on prominent Senator Susan Collins.

If I were in the US this election, I’d be careful to vote against the Republicans who have delivered Trump to the presidency. If I had a chance to vote in a ranked choice ballot, I would put the Greens first. But I wouldn’t vote Green in a ballot if it meant the Republicans could win the seat. I would pledge my support for electoral reform campaigns. Electoral systems are often the decision of the Secretary of State, so lobbying these candidates is a place to start.

Joining the local or regional Greens in your area will help you to become better informed and change the electoral system that plagues US democracy.

Larry Abel

Port Phillip branch, Victoria

I migrated from the US to Melbourne 24 years ago, became an Australian citizen 20 years ago and joined the Greens about 12 years ago. I have been a member of the Port Phillip branch continually since then. Since then, the focus of my political activity has been here, not the US – especially since my last state of residence was Indiana, home of VP Mike Pence.

So, if I’m an active member of the Australian Greens, why wouldn’t I vote for the Greens’ US presidential candidate? The answer lies in the all-or-none structure of ’first past the post‘ voting, combined with the peculiar institution of the Electoral College. Unlike in Australia, in all federal elections in the US the candidate with the most votes wins. Even at the state level, only Maine uses a preferential system. Hence, the best is the enemy of the good.

Then there’s the Electoral College. The founders of the US Constitution were lukewarm about direct elections and did not wish to disadvantage slave states, so the Electoral College is composed of as many representatives from each state as they have members of Congress. Most states give all their electoral votes to whomever has the most popular votes. So, if Ohio goes Trump 45 percent, Biden 43 percent and the Greens’ Hawkins gets two percent, Trump gets all of Ohio’s votes. This is true of most states.

Furthermore, voters don’t choose electors – state legislatures do. In a close election in a Republican-dominated state, the legislature could ignore a Biden lead, shout ’fraud!‘ and send Trump electors instead. Could Obama have done anything about this, even with a Democratic Congress? No – change would require a constitutional amendment.

And that’s the problem. In the last election, the Greens’ candidate got more votes in several states than Trump’s margin of victory. So, am I excited by Joe Biden? No. Do I think he’s the perfect candidate? No. But the election next month is run under these rules. And given that Trump is a threat not only to the US but to the entire planet, the imperative is to ensure he leaves office. So, work for local Greens candidates in the US? Sure. Build their profile? Of course. Work for electoral reform? Certainly. But above all, remove Trump from office. And that’s why I’m voting for Biden.

Annette Herrera

Melbourne branch, Victoria

I’m a dual citizen of the US and Mexico, and a naturalised Australian citizen.

I’m part of the Melbourne Greens branch and the Multicultural Greens of Victoria.

My home state of California, where I am registered as a voter, has been a blue state in the general election since the Clinton ’92 election.

Biden/Harris currently have close to a 40 percent lead in California. This means, unlike other potential swing states, I have the luxury of voting for a third party.

What I mean by that is that the US electoral system – ‘first past the post’ plus the notorious Electoral College – makes it pretty near impossible for third parties to blossom outside of local or state levels.

Electoral systems aside, the 2020 election is a nightmare and my friends and family in the States are worried about what will happen.

Political analysts are expecting chaos and unrest regardless of scenario – and this before the added uncertainty of Trump contracting COVID-19 on October 1st.

The Biden/Harris ticket needs to overwhelmingly win in electoral votes and the popular vote if the US has any chance of having a peaceful handover of power in January when the newly elected president is sworn in.

Die-hard Trump voters and white nationalists will never be convinced, of course, that the election is not already rigged. But a strong Biden/Harris vote could change the minds of some.

To be clear, a Biden/Harris ticket isn’t in line with Greens values.

Their track record from bailing out bankers during the great recession, voting for the Iraq war and over-policing are part of the problem in the US, with a two-party system that props up corporate interest at the expense of the environment and marginalised communities.

In reality, American voters want a third party – and close to 40 per cent of registered voters are not registered with either Democrats or Republicans. I’ll continue to vote on Green Party positions in propositions in California, but to even have a chance at furthering Greens values and policies we need to vote no to Trump and vote no to white nationalism.

I’ll be voting Biden/Harris (via fax) in the hope we can overcome the dangerous period we are in right now with Trump in office.

There are many electoral challenges voters and political parties face here and abroad. Sometimes leaders do the right thing, like Victoria’s Bracks’ Labor government, which in 2005 reformed the upper house voting to proportional representation, opening up the door to Greens.

Trump appears to become the presidential winner through the storms he creates. The Democrats again picked a conservative politician to lead them against Trump.

Leon Zembekis

Darebin branch, Victoria

I would like to thank our US voting Australian Greens members in offering their time and perspectives on how they cast their ballots.

Hero image: The White House via Flickr.

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