As we gear up for November there is going to be a lot of talk about swing states and get out the vote operations around the country. But there is one group of critical voters who are (literally) not in range of the US media coverage - or polling.
Americans living abroad are keeenly sensitive to America's loss of international reuptation. They get media coverage that has been more consistenty critical of the Bush administration for longer than voters back home. And in the 2006 election there were more absentee ballots from overseas in the Virginia and Montana Senate races than made up the margin of victory in those races. So yes, these voters do make a difference.
But finding overseas voters, informing them of their voting rights, getting them registered and ensuring they do actually vote can be exponentially harder than GOTV operations in the States - plus we are often subject to more restrictive laws. For instance, here in Europe there are stricter rules about data protection, making it more difficult for us to access personal information through third parties. In some countries, such as China, there are actually laws preventing a foreign political party from organising.
Below is a short guide to the overseas vote this year - how to do it and why it matters. I'd appreciate it if you could help us get the word out about these important voting tools, and if you could forward this information along to anyone you know who lives overseas.
Can Americans Abroad Vote?
Yes they can! For the past 40 years, expats have been eligible to vote in US federal elections (presidential and congressional). Some states also allow us to vote in local elections as well, but rules on this vary. How Do they Register?Americans Abroad can register via the embasy, or they can get help through the Federal Voting Assistance Program.But by far the easiest, quickest and most user-friendly way to register is through the Vote From Abroad Website.
Although this tool was created by Democrats Abroad (the officially recognised "state party" of the Democrats for Americans abroad) the tool is non-partisan and can be used by Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike. It does, however, ask users at the end of the registration process whether they would like to join Democrats Abroad - if so, then the party is able to provide them with ongoing voter information and advice.
After completing the online form, the tool creates a PDF with all your details completed, along with full instructions of where you need to send your form (by physical post - no e-mail or fax submissions accepted, sadly).
Where Do Americans Overseas Vote?
Americans abroad must send their absentee ballot to the last state where they lived in the US. If you are a US citizen who has never lived in the US - typically these are children of US citizens who have always lived abroad - you must vote in your parent's last state of residence.There are US expats from every state in the Union. The largest numbers probably come from big states such as New York and California, but there are also large numbers from states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
How Many US Voters Live Overseas?
No one really knows. One estimate is that there may be as many as 6 million with nearly 250,00 in my home city of London alone - but no one tracks this information in any consistent way.
We do know, however, that there are more than enough to make a difference in this election. At Democrats Abroad meetings I frequently encounter people who have been living abroad for decades and who are voting this year for the first time. Go to the American Schools here and you find hundreds of young people who are about to turn 18 years old and preparing to vote for the first time. Go to the financial district here and you find thousands of wealthy executives who have never donated money to a politician before, or who have given to Republicans in the past, who this year are making major donations to Barack Obama and the Democratic party.
How do Americans Overseas Vote?
It used to be claimed that most American Expat voters were Republicans, but in the past two election cycles we have seen a significant change in this pattern what seems to be an overwhelming tilt towards the Democrats. Barack Obama in particular is wildly popular overseas, and this enthusiasm is reflected in the expat population, which voted for him overwhelmingly in our Democats Abroad Global Primary - giving him 65.8% of that vote.
Finding and registering overseas voters is hard work, but well worth the effort since these voters vote overwhelmingly Democratic, vote in a broad range of critical swing states, and are not included in US domestic polling. A huge upsurge in the overseas vote could be exactly the right thing to push our votes over the top in November. Please share the Vote from Abroad link widely and spread the word to every American you know who lives overseas. Thanks!