Students follow US politics across borders, overseas

Liam McMahon, Managing Editor

Across the United States last week, people tried and failed to make sense of the chaotic events of the Iowa Caucuses. The debacle overseen by the Iowa Democratic Party was hard enough to follow for highly-informed, politically-active voters with access to the best news sources the U.S. has to offer — from across the ocean, it was even more difficult.

Kat Lewis ’21 is studying away in Amman, Jordan, on the CIEE Middle East Studies program, eight hours ahead of Minnesota, which makes it hard to keep track of what’s happening back home.

“We’re ahead of the time but have to catch up,” Lewis said.

That isn’t for want of trying.

“A lot of us [on the program] are actually paying more attention to the news when we’re abroad than we were when we were in the U.S.,” they said.

Lewis, like many other Macalester students, is following the election through the free The New York Times subscription available to all students. Because of the influence of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East, Lewis has also made a point of following news from the U.S. more broadly.

More than half of the people living in Jordan are of Palestinian descent, and protests erupted across Amman at the end of January after Trump unveiled a heavily-criticized, extreme plan for peace in Israel-Palestine. The protests affected planned class activities.

Around the world, Macalester students studying away have become accustomed to discussing and fielding questions about the Trump presidency from people in their host country. For better or worse, people in other countries want to know what students from the United States think of the President.

“One of the first things we talked about was, ‘What’s it like with [President] Donald Trump over there,’” Lindsay Weber ’21, a student in the IFE Brussels program and a member of The Mac Weekly staff, said of her first conversation with her landlord.

That many students began their programs during the impeachment trial raised international  awareness to another level.

“My host mom has asked me about the impeachment several times, and it seems to me that the Russian news is more concerned with covering that than the election,” Rachel Liebherr ’21, who is studying in St. Petersburg, Russia, wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly.

History professor Jess Pearson is on a year-long sabbatical and has spent time in Ecuador, Morocco and the United Kingdom doing research. She’s been asked about both Trump and about the Democratic primary.

“I was surprised in Morocco [by] how many people even in rural places followed it,” she said.

While following the news from abroad is relatively straightforward — time difference notwithstanding — participating in an election is more difficult, an important concern for the many students studying away that want to vote in the Democratic primary.

Voting from abroad presents various difficulties. Many states have arduous procedures for voting absentee across state lines, let alone national borders. Pearson experienced those barriers firsthand while studying away in France in 2004. After her absentee ballot didn’t arrive, she voted in-person at the U.S. Embassy in Paris and had to answer a number of specific questions to have her vote counted.

“I remember thinking all of these questions were a really complicated way of trying to throw out my ballot,” she said.

Minnesota is one of the easiest states in which to vote absentee either from the United States or abroad. The state has a 46-day absentee and early voting period, which means Minnesotans could start casting their ballots for the March 3 Presidential Primary on Jan. 17.

One of the barriers to voting abroad is the time and cost of sending mail around the world. Minnesota is one of the states that offers a shortcut to its citizens.

“Someone who is living abroad temporarily from Minnesota, and really any state, can have their ballot transmitted to them electronically. They can’t transmit it back electronically, at least in Minnesota, they’ll have to still do that by snail mail,” Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said.

Those concerned about the time it takes for the state to process a request for an electronic ballot can mail in a Federal Absentee Write-in Ballot. Nora Stewart ’21, who is studying on the IFE Paris program, plans to vote that way because she wants to make sure her vote gets counted.

Although Minnesota makes it relatively easy, neither the Civic Engagement Center nor the Center for Study Away provided resources to students about how to vote this spring.

“I wasn’t told how to [vote abroad], or anything about that,” Adrian Johnson ’21, who is studying at the University of Tartu in Estonia this semester and a member of The Mac Weekly staff, said.

In an email to The Mac Weekly, Senior Program Director for Community-Based Learning and Scholarship Paul Schadewald wrote that the Center for Study Away connects with students about voting abroad in the fall.

Among the students studying away who spoke with The Mac Weekly, Vermont Sen. (I-VT) Bernie Sanders is drawing significant support.

“If we get a Bernie presidency, that would be a big cultural moment in how we deal with politics,” Malcolm Cooke ’21, a student on the Macalester German Studies program and a member of The Mac Weekly staff, said.

However, even among the Sanders supporters, there is a strong desire to elect whoever emerges as the Democratic challenger to Trump.

“For me, that’s more important than supporting any one candidate right now,” Johnson said.

Reporting from Kori Suzuki ’21 contributed to this article.

[email protected]