In her house in the German town of Bornheim, Karen Schneider has turned her living room into a voting station for American Democrats. The turnout has been overwhelming, with dozens of people knocking on her door.
Karen Schneider’s house, about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of Cologne, has been visited by more and more people wishing to cast their votes for the Global Presidential Primary (GPP).
“If all the Americans who live overseas voted and formed their own state we would be the 12th largest state in America,” says Schneider, who is a member of Democrats Abroad, the international arm of the US Democratic Party.
“I didn’t realize this before – how much power we have.”
Even if the votes count only for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in July – and not for state primaries or the general election – Schneider insists that having a say is crucial.
“There are 17 delegates at the DNC. Thirteen of them are pledged delegates, so they must vote according to what the people have voted here,” she explains. “The other four are called superdelegates, and they can vote for whoever they want.”
When the 57-year-old teacher from Michigan tells stories about her children, her life in Germany and the strong connection she still feels to the United States, more and more American citizens living in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia are coming and knocking on her door.
An architect from Illinois who has been living in Cologne for 25 years, a high school teacher from Bonn with dual German-American citizenship, a musician – they all seem happy to hear familiar accents and enjoy the oatmeal cookies and tea served by Schneider.
For most of them, it’s the first time they have voted through Democrats Abroad. They seem quite unfamiliar with the procedure, and they have to fill out some forms before being able to vote. Yet this initial bother does not affect their determination to cast their ballots.
“On Super Tuesday, the democratic voters were outvoted by the Republicans by roughly a million votes,” says Schneider. “If you don’t go to the polls, your voice is not heard. That’s why we must vote. Even just in order to have the moral possibility to complain afterwards. Vote – or you keep your mouth shut.”
In the middle of the paperwork, Quaide Williams – the chair of Democrats Abroad in Germany – rings the bell. He seems delighted and tells Schneider that more than 20 people have shown up to vote in Münster, about two hours’ drive north of Cologne.
As other Americans who showed up in Bornheim, Schneider is frightened. The wide attention given to the Republican front-runner Donald Trump in the media is starting to have its effect, and people are worried.
“I have never been scared before,” she says. “Even when Republican politicians I disagree with were running, I didn’t worry. But with Trump – and even more so with the people who support him – I do,” she confesses, and others nod their heads in agreement.
She sees a strong connection between Trump voters and the PEGIDA movement. According to her, both types of supporters are looking for an authority figure, for someone who will show them the way without asking the tough questions.
“They [Trump voters and PEGIDA supporters] want someone who can say ‘I’m going to make it all better now.’ It doesn’t matter to them if he doesn’t have a plan on how to do it or a way to get it paid for; they just want their leader to say he will bust some heads.”
She says that’s why it’s important for her to make her voice still heard in a country she immigrated from years ago. “It’s not really to influence but more to have a say regarding how my country is governed,” she says.
“I consider myself an American still, and since we do have a large influence in the world I want a say in what that influence is. I’d rather be the person who does all the work than the one sitting in the corner and complaining about how things are not being done right. You can’t complain about something if you don’t help in shaping it.”
As an American who has been living in Germany for more than 20 years, Schneider says she now has a better perspective on her home country and its political system. “It makes you realize that things can be done differently,” she says. “That what you know from your country is not an absolute truth.
“Having lived overseas allowed me to understand that there are different ways to do familiar things. You can recycle things, you don’t have to own a car, you don’t have to drive it a couple of meters just to go to the mailbox,” she says.
Moreover, the same way, she argues, being a skilled businessman doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re suitable to govern. “People are starting to realize that in America: That there are different ways to do things, and that the leader shouldn’t necessarily be the richest man.”