The Congressman from the 1st Overseas District

by Peter Spiro

Not quite as crazy as it sounds. More Americans are living abroad (estimates run as high as five million), and they are more politically active. As reported on this NPR segment, Rudolph Giuliani held a fundraiser yesterday in London — apparently the first time that a presidential candidate has held such an event outside the United States. But he won’t be the only one to do so this campaign season: Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama will also be raising money for their spouses with London events. With all those investment bankers in foreign financial capitals, you can be sure that this is a practice whose time has come.

US citizens living abroad have a statutorily-protected right to vote in presidential elections, and their turnout was up by 70% in 2004. As now configured, they vote is tallied in their last place of US residence. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, if we’re talking about someone who has lived abroad for years and has developed discrete interests as an external citizen (especially on tax policies, on which US citizens abroad took a big hit last year). The Democratic party has taken this model of discrete representation (Democrats Abroad send a separate delegation to the nominating convention). It is increasingly prevalent in other countries (Italians abroad elect six senators and a dozen deputies in the Italian parliament; they made the difference in last year’s unseating of Silvio Berlusconi).

Of course, it would take a constitutional amendment to make the change, but perhaps it could grab the coattails of this proposed amendment, which has shown some potential in recent sessions of Congress.

2 Responses

  1. “As now configured, they vote is tallied in their last place of US residence. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense…”

    You are correct when you say that it doesn’t make a lot of sense. As you point out, we have the right to vote for presidential elections, to be talied in the last place of US residence. However, not all have had a residence in the US, as is the case of offsprings of American citizens, who never had a chance to travel to the US, and as in some states, have to live in that state for a period of six months. They are our third class citizens.

  2. Hopefully, ex-pats don’t trend towards one party or another. Nothing guarantees government inaction like one side realizing they have very little incentive to help make it legal for you to vote. See District of Columbia.

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