How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts While Living Overseas. It’s Easier Than You May Realize.
I’m not a perfect voter. I admit it here (and my husband knows), I have accidentally missed a few local, mid-term elections in my recent adult life. Yes, a couple mail-in ballots have been lost in a swamp of family paperwork. It’s not like me, but it happens.
Still, one election year, in particular, found me absolutely on-top of my ballot and the calendar. It was 2012, the year we voted from abroad as expatriates living in Australia.
Voting in the United States is a responsibility some of us are granted age 18 onward. Still, few of us give very little thought to the actual ease of the process. As an American living overseas with two small children, getting my mailed-in ballot counted early, and sent across an ocean, seemed exceptionally critical in 2012.
Today, in 2020, an estimated 9 million U.S. citizens reside overseas, according to the U.S. State Department. Advances in technology and voter support abroad have made it easier than ever to cast your expatriate vote.
EXPATS: EXACTLY HOW TO OBTAIN AND RETURN YOUR BALLOT
The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP.gov) provides voting assistance for service members, their families, and overseas citizens. In 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, voting options from abroad are much better than when I last voted as an expat. My sister, an American with spousal residency in South Africa, just informed me she would obtain her electronic overseas voter ballot via email. It would be emailed to her on September 18 from her county and it was due sometime in early October. I couldn’t have been more relieved.
She was even told by the American consulate that if she did not receive her absentee ballot in time to return to her state, she could use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) as a back-up ballot to vote for federal offices. (All of this information is located at the FVAP.gov site.)
VOTE FROM ABROAD. BECAUSE SO MANY WON’T BE ABLE TO VOTE FROM THEIR OWN STATE
This is a year like no other. No one can predict next week, let alone next month. Come what may, we assume nothing may go as planned stateside. A pandemic, fires, hurricanes, voter rights disputes, and a civil rights movement are all important hurdles.
Here’s hoping U.S. expats, the world over, can summon their masses. Here’s willing our 9 million far-flung citizens will check with their consulates and do everything in their power to meet the generous deadlines, utilize the latest technologies, and find a path to returning an electronic or paper ballot. From wherever they reside.
HOW VOTING FEELS DIFFERENT FROM OVERSEAS
When my husband and I were two of those millions of overseas Americans working and living a life abroad, we were also taxpayers in two countries. In the nation we resided, we had zero rights or protections (Australia). In our native U.S., we were afforded all the rights and protections of the U.S. government. We felt safe and heard as U.S. citizens.
We were scrupulous with our physical mail-in ballots that year. It was the re-election of President Obama. We became very involved with our local expatriate community in encouraging each other to vote with assistance from several “vote from abroad” advocacy groups. On election day, we went to a pub (naturally) with several American friends. We watched the U.S. polls close while our kids were in school (it was the next day in Australia.)
Why did we feel so different that election year? Perhaps it was our age; we were smack in our mid-thirties. We were also in the throes of parenthood, raising a 4 and 7-year-old. I’ll admit a bit of old fashioned patriotism bubbled up in a way we never expected while living outside the U.S.
We had also been watching how Australians cast their ballots. Voting is compulsory in Australia. It is always held on a Saturday and is incredibly easy and often involves a community barbecue event. It seemed a rather jovial affair in some cases. Still, there are also fines for not voting in Australia. That’s right, like a parking ticket. This is the best part about being expats; seeing how the rest of the world lives.
As foreigners observers, we were not a part of this political system and were very aware of where we came from and what a privilege “choosing” to vote meant. We were also feeling a healthy amount of vulnerable as working visitors living in a country where we had no say in laws that affected our lives. One new tax law on all foreign workers hit us reasonably hard. After all, we were just visitors with no voice.
We loved our temporary Australian home and embraced our foreign status; still, we fully intended to return to the U.S. after a work project was over. We were, and are, invested in the U.S., and voting felt like the single most important thing we could do in 2012.
It was then, and it still is, today.