Could Americans Abroad Decide the Election?

by Peter Spiro

I subscribe to the new conventional wisdom that Tuesday’s result won’t be close, but who knows? If it is, there’s always the chance that voters among the 6+ million U.S. citizens living outside the United States will decide the election.

Non-resident U.S. citizens are entitled under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to cast absentee ballots in “the last place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States.”

That’s pretty noncontroversial with respect to citizens who are on active duty in the US armed forces outside the US or those temporarily resident abroad. But what about those who have permanently left the United States? They aren’t around to shoulder the consequences, the argument runs; why should they get a voice? To the extent they’ve transferred their loyalties elsewhere, moreover — many will have dual citizenship — they might actually vote against the interests of the US.

But of course most will have an interest in who is President. On tax policy, for starters, on which front Americans abroad have a lot to be worried about. As for loyalty, that doesn’t really compute any more — would it make sense for a dual citizen in, say, France, to vote for Romney because it would make France look better relative to the US? If the US gets a bad president, the whole world suffers for it.

External citizen voting is now becoming the norm in other countries as well, to the point that many have discrete legislative districts drawn for nonresidents (eg, the representative for North America in the Italian parliament). Constitutional path dependence keeps us from going down that road. In the meantime, it’s good that citizens abroad get to participate, and if their votes make the difference, we shouldn’t think of it any differently than Latinos or blue-collar workers or suburban moms tipping the balance one way or the other.

http://opiniojuris.org/2012/11/02/could-americans-abroad-decide-the-election/

2 Responses

  1. “They aren’t around to shoulder the consequences, the argument runs; why should they get a voice? To the extent they’ve transferred their loyalties elsewhere, moreover — many will have dual citizenship — they might actually vote against the interests of the US.”

    I am sure stateside this may not be known, but this is VERY OFFENSIVE to Americans who live abroad.  In fact, during my 17 years in Paris, we preferred not to be called expats but rather Americans living abroad.  We should keep in mind in a globalizing environment that many Americans are working abroad for American companies and are also working in many companies that are not American.  Moreover, there are the artist communities (I do not see Americans dissing Hemingway for his Moveable Feast in Paris – we claim it).  Yes, there are the tax aspects.

    As to dual nationals, this is a thing that may come of right (such as for my two children adopted abroad when we lived abroad).  So dual citizenship should not be a proxy for loyalty.  It is the way the laws of different countries interact for reasons that are independent of the will.

    If an American finds their bliss living in Moscow and painting obscure paintings, why is that so less patriotic then someone doing the same in Petaluma.

    One other thing, Americans abroad also live closer to or in some of the hotspots where folks in the US cavalierly talk about bombing etc.  Or burning Korans because of “freedom of speech” no matter how dumb that might be for ordinary Americans and troops around the world.

    Best,
    Ben

  2. I voted in Georgia.  What a wasted vote…

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