Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – Thousands of Americans living in Israel flocked to unofficial polling stations here last week to cast ballots in the U.S. presidential election. One poll shows a majority of them voted for McCain.
With some 250,000 U.S. citizens living here, Israel has the third largest American ex-patriot community after Canada and England. An estimated 125,000 are eligible to vote, and more than one-third of them – some 45,000 – reportedly requested absentee ballots this year.
Dena Lerner, who heads the non-partisan Vote From Israel group along with her husband Shimon Greenspan, said their group had personally helped to register voters from every state except North Dakota. “I think every vote counts. By voting we really do make our voices heard,” Lerner said.
Both Republican Sen. John McCain and Democrat Sen. Barack Obama made pre-election trips to Israel and pledged their support for the Jewish State and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Both candidates have worked hard to woo the traditionally liberal-leaning American Jewish community. But while polls show that American Jews are more likely to vote for Obama, many American Jews living here say they choose McCain.
Last Tuesday evening, some 2,000 Americans turned up at an unofficial “polling” location in central Jerusalem. Some picked up federal write-in ballots and other dropped off absentee ballots. Vote from Israel held smaller events in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem earlier in the week, Lerner said.
An “exit poll” of 817 American voters at the Vote From Israel events showed McCain leading Obama by a three to one margin. In the survey conducted by a Jerusalem-based polling firm (Keevoon Research, Strategy and Communications), 76 percent of those polled said they had voted for McCain while 24 percent chose Obama.
Of the respondents, 70 percent identified themselves as Orthodox Jews and 18 percent as Jews who keep some religious traditions. Only eight percent described themselves as secular and four percent said they were not Jewish at all. Among those who were secular, 59 percent said they voted for Obama, while 41 percent said they voted for McCain.
Keevoon director Mitchell Barak said religious Jews here and in the U.S. tend to favor Republican candidates.
According to Barak, foreign policy is the most important issue for Israelis voting in the U.S. election. Ninety-three percent of respondents said that they agree that “if Iran attains nuclear weapons it will directly, or indirectly, through terrorists getting those weapons, threaten the safety and security of the United States.”
Concern for U.S.
Judy Har El has lived in Israel for more than 20 years. She said she voted this year because “we’re so concerned about what’s going on…We feel that the people in America don’t have any understanding of the real situation that’s going on in the world,” Har El told CNSNews.com.
Americans are very isolated. They live in a bubble, she said. Many speak only one language. They are worried about their mortgages but they don’t understand that if terrorism isn’t dealt with, there won’t be any mortgages. No other issue matters if they get blown up by Iran, Har El said.
Har El, who is from Richmond, Virginia, described her family as liberal Democrats, but she voted for McCain this time and previously voted for President George W. Bush.
While Har El admitted that Bush has made mistakes, she said he didn’t let terrorists get away with what they did to the United States on 9/11. She also said she wonders where the world would be today if Bush hadn’t gone after the terrorists.
Dorraine Weiss immigrated to Israel with her husband three months ago from California. She said that she and her husband had been politically active in Los Angeles and were so far to the left that they once hosted an event for Tom Hayden – former husband of Jane Fonda – in their home.
Although Weiss voted for the Democratic congresswoman from her district, she said she cast her presidential ballot for McCain.
“My bottom line now is Israel,” said Weiss. “We just don’t know [about Obama]. I’m afraid that he cares more about world opinion than he’s going to care about little Israel,” she said.
Weiss lamented polls predicting that Jews living in the U.S. will vote overwhelmingly for Obama.
“They (American Jews) say ‘change.’ They hate the Republicans. They’re making fun of Sarah Palin and she’s got traditional values,” Weiss said. Weiss described herself as someone who keeps traditional Jewish values. “They make all these judgments about Israel without having ever been here.”
Student Yoni Bardash, 18, from New Jersey is living here for a year. Voting for the first time in a presidential election, Bardash said that foreign policy and the U.S. economy were most important issues for him. “The future is at stake,” he said.
He also questioned the media’s portrayal of American Jews as staunch Obama supporters, saying all his friends back home had said they would vote for McCain.
Not everyone is supporting McCain. Lynn Weinstein, 44, has lived in Israel 12 years. Initially she had reservations about Obama but was convinced to vote for him because as a Delaware native, she’s a fan Sen. Joe Biden. “[Biden] understands why Israel’s survival is crucial to the world.”
Some Republicans here have argued that absentee voting from Israel could have an impact on the outcome of the presidential election, since thousands of voters come from swing states – particularly Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They cite the example of the 2000 presidential election, which was decided by some 537 votes in Florida.
According to the Keevoon poll, 39 percent of those surveyed came from battleground states and 78 percent of them voted for McCain.
In response to a query, Florida’s Department of State told CNSNews.com it had no count of absentee ballots, no way of tracking where absentee ballots came from or how absentee ballots had impacted previous elections.
But Lt. Col. Les Melnyk, a Public Affairs press officer at the Pentagon, said that in general the potential influence of absentee voters is “significant.”
“There are an estimated 6 million citizens covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act worldwide. Respondents to the 2004 Department of Defense Presidential Post Election Survey of voter participation indicated that 73% of uniformed service members, 77% of federally employed civilians residing overseas, and 53% of non-federally employed citizens residing overseas voted in the general election,” Melnyk told CNSNews.com in response to an email query.
“Solid participation reported in the presidential primaries, a surge in activity on the Federal Voting Assistance Program website, and extensive outreach by thousands of Voting Assistance Officers throughout the military, U.S. embassies and consulates, and citizen organizations worldwide are setting the stage for robust voter participation on November 4, 2008,” Melnyk said.
Melnyk said all ballots that are properly executed and arrive in the local election official’s office by the state’s deadline “will be counted and included in the state’s certified election totals.