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Expat voters may determine US president

AAP logoAAP 3/11/2016 Belinda Tasker

With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump almost neck and neck in the race for the White House, votes by expat American voters in Australia and other countries could be crucial in deciding who wins.

Out of the estimated six million Americans living outside the US, it's believed that 2.6 million are eligible to vote and about 103,000 of those are in Australia.

Todd St Vrain, chair of Democrats Abroad Australia, has been busy rallying expats all year as part of a global campaign by Clinton supporters to make sure as many as possible cast an absentee ballot for the November 8 election.

"It's critically important they vote, especially as the race is tightening," he told AAP.

"I like to joke that the expat vote could be the November surprise."

Of the top 10 international cities with voting-age Americans, Melbourne comes in at number 10 with 27,709 expats, a recent report by the US-based Federal Voting Assistance Program found.

In Australia the Democrats Abroad branch has been active in drumming up support by handing out leaflets at local markets, organising expat events and using social media. The group will also host election parties in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra on Wednesday as results filter through from the US.

There is no official local branch of Republicans Overseas, although there is a Facebook page which has just 17 Australian members.

Mr St Vrain said many expats in Australia would have already cast their vote and were now looking forward to the end of what has been a long campaign.

"I think people are distressed and tired of a very long election year that has been very negative and divisive," he said, adding that he was "nervously optimistic" about a Clinton victory.

Expat American voters played a decisive role in the 2000 presidential election.

Democrat hopeful Al Gore was 202 votes ahead of Mr Bush in the crucial state of Florida, but the Republican was eventually declared the winner once overseas ballots that arrived after election day were counted.

"If, as several commentators have suggested, 2016 ends up as close and contested an election as 2000, overseas voters may find themselves playing as decisive a role as they did in Florida 16 years ago," a recent report by the University of Oxford's Rothermere American Institute released in October said.

It also noted that voter turnout among expats is low. More than 876,000 ballots were sent to expats for the 2012 election and of the 69 per cent that were returned, more than half were from those in the armed services.

Mr St Vrain said part of the problem relates to a lack of awareness among expats about how to vote and the complicated process involved.

Recent legal changes have meant that expat voters have to register every election year to be eligible to vote. Each state also has its own deadlines for requesting and returning ballot papers.

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