What It Was Like To Vote From Madrid

On Super Tuesday, Americans headed to the polls not just around the country, but also around the world. In Madrid, Spain, where I live, hundreds of young people turned up to an in-person voting center hosted in a bar on Tuesday night. The line stretched down the block from the Tempo Club in the trendy neighborhood of Conde Duque, right in between the city's hipster and student neighborhoods. Both are filled to the brim with 20-somethings, and — as became apparent Tuesday — more than a few American citizens. And it seemed to me that many first-time American voters are feeling the Bern — even in Spain.

One of the many young voters waiting for the doors to open was Victoria Kearney, 20, a Boston University student studying international relations through an exchange program in Madrid. She didn't head home to her host family after class, but instead to the polls. Who was she voting for? Like most of the young voters in line whom I spoke to, she picked Bernie Sanders.

"They all make promises they can't keep, but I'm going to choose the one I agree with most," Kearney says. She said that she's glad a woman is running, but that the issues matter more to her. Were Clinton to win the nomination, though, Kearney says that she would "definitely, definitely" vote for her.

Kearney's vote will be counted as a part of the Global Presidential Primary, which allows Democrats abroad to vote more easily. The event is run by Democrats Abroad, an official arm of the Democratic Party designed to give the estimated 8.7 million Americans living overseas a voice in government by organizing their vote. Voting is open until March 8 and ballots can be sent in by mail, fax, or email. In addition, events like Tuesday's give voters a place to turn out in person.

The kick-off Super Tuesday vote was in New Zealand, where Sanders won — but relatively few showed up. Madrid's vote on Tuesday could turn out to be one of the biggest in Europe, local organizers said. A total of 432 votes were cast. Sanders won by a three-to-one margin, taking 323 votes to Clinton's 107. Two were "undecided." The margin for all of Spain — which also saw a voting center in Barcelona open Tuesday night — may be quite different after all the votes are are finally counted, seeing as how Tuesday's event was focused on youth.

The worldwide Democrats Abroad group will send 13 pledged delegates to the Democratic Convention. They will be joined by eight superdelegates, but their votes only count as a half vote — meaning the total delegate votes the group gets is 17. That's one less than the state of Wyoming, for example.

For Democrats Abroad Spain President Gil Carbajal, having their point of view represented at the convention is important — and it's because of more than just taxes. "We're looking from the outside in," he says, "so we have a perspective that is special. Living abroad, we're so conscious of the power of the United States and its projection."

Local Madrid chapter president of Democrats Abroad, Ryan Turner, 32, says that the turnout beat his initial expectations. He and a group of 10 other members have been organizing the event for months, principally trying to get the word out through social media. He said the event was targeted at the large number of American students studying in the city.

According to 2013 figures, about 26,000 American students study in Spain each year, a large number of them in Madrid. "You need to provide as many options as possible for people to vote," Turner said. "If we can activate young people and people who live abroad, we can better take on the Republicans." Being a Dems Abroad official, Turner declined from stating a preference in the Clinton-Sanders divide.

Not everyone at the event was for Sanders, though. Alana Moceri, who teaches political communications at Universidad Europea in Madrid and has lived in the country for 17 years, started a Spain for Hillary group. Although not an official arm of the Clinton campaign, they are planning events both for Spaniards and for Americans in Spain to talk about the importance of electing the first female president, as well as about women in politics more generally.

Moceri thinks that Clinton will ultimately clinch the nomination, but that in the meantime, these in-person events allow Sanders and Clinton supporters to get to know each other — something that will be increasingly important when it comes down to one candidate and the party has to unite. "When we all come together — people who are supporting both candidates — and can have a laugh and a beer together, and know that we'll continue on no matter who gets the nomination, that's the most important part," Moceri said.

A preference for either candidate over the Republican opposition — particularly Donald Trump — was clear among the many young voters. Courtney Likkel, 25, has lived in Madrid for three years working as an English teacher. She said that in the end, she would be happy with either in the general election — anyone who could beat Trump. Her "tough" choice ultimately landed with Clinton, though.

Meanwhile, Likkel's friend and fellow English teacher Kathleen Egan, 23, is for Bernie. She said it was difficult, especially given that she identifies as a feminist. She said that trying to navigate which candidate was better was hard, but that having such a difficult choice was good. It means that the candidates are better, "rather than with the Republicans, where it's 'Oh dear lord!'"

The two had both missed the window to request absentee ballots from their home states of Washington and Massachusetts. Likkel said she was kicking herself about it until she learned about this event online. "I saw this and I was like, 'Oh, problem solved.'"

That's what's Democrats Abroad hope to do: make voting from abroad easier, both during the primaries and in the general election. To find out how to request your own absentee ballot, you can visit

Images: Joseph D. Lyons (5)