Could Americans Abroad Decide the Election?
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.