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OK, so you are an expat. You left the country of your birth, and the country of your citizenship and you moved abroad. In my case, I am an American, but I live in the Philippines. This site is all about expats. One thing that we have not talked about, though, is voting. What are the voting rights of expats, and what are their voting habits?
It varies. It is different on a country by country basis.
As an example, I am an American. We have the right to vote in US elections no matter where we live. We may vote using the “absentee ballot”.
Over the past couple of decades the use of absentee ballot has grown a lot in the States. But, not exclusively for expat use. No, a lot of people vote using an absentee ballot because they will be away for vacation or something of that sort. Also, the use of absentee ballot has become a popular way of simply avoiding the need to go to the polling places, and for voting early. Many people simply say that they “may be gone” on voting day, and choose to use the absentee ballot “just in case”.
This system of being able to use an absentee ballot if you live overseas has been in place in the United States for many decades. Not all countries have this kind of system, though.
Britain’s 15 year rule
In Britain, they have what is called a 15 year rule. Under this rule, if you have been out of the country for 15 years you then lose your right to vote in British elections. I was surprised when I recently learned that, because to me, a citizen should always have the right to vote, no matter where he lives. As a citizen, it is my belief that you should have the right to help shape your country.
Recently, though, the Conservative Party announced that it is taking the new position that if they win in elections they will abolish the 15 year rule, and citizens will have the right to vote for life. This would apply even if they are no longer residing in Britain. I don’t know anything about British politics, what the parties stand for and such, but I do find this particular proposal to be refreshing.
So, as Americans, we have the RIGHT to vote in US elections no matter where we live. But, what are the habits of expats who live abroad?
In my experience, few expats vote. I have no scientific study or poll on this, only my personal observations based on being an expat and knowing a lot of expats. My information taken from conversations with a lot of other expats is that few take the time or put in the effort to cast a vote. This sampling is mostly from other Americans, but includes some expats of many other nationalities as well.
Why don’t expats vote?
The biggest reason is the hassle. Tied in with this is apathy.
It is a hassle, at least for us Americans, because the process is not so simple. You have to request an absentee ballot from the government where you are from. The request itself can often be easy, just going to a website and requesting it. But, then it must be mailed to you. So, you have to request the absentee ballot early enough to allow for it to be mailed to you at some other part of the world, and be in your hands in time to be able to cast the ballot before the election occurs.
Next, once you have filled in the ballot you must then mail your ballot back to the election bureau in the area that you are from. Again, you have to do this early enough so that your vote will be counted in the election. Generally, your ballot must be received no later than election day, although this varies from one place to another. So, you have to mail it early enough to ensure it arrives in time.
With all of this mailing of paper absentee ballots, you can also have the problem of your mail (incoming or outgoing) not ever arriving. In some countries, like the Philippines where I live, mail is very unreliable. Stuff that is mailed may or may not ever arrive at its destination. Some of the mail is stolen, or opened to see if there is anything of value inside. After it is open it is just discarded to avoid any allegations of wrongdoing. Some of it just gets lost. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t get there. This probably happens in 25% of all letters and packages. So, with mail coming to you from the USA, then being mailed back out, you have about a 50% chance that in one direction or the other, it simply won’t get there.
The other aspect of why many expats don’t bother to vote is apathy. The old thought of “what difference can a single vote make” comes into play. Because most people feel that their solitary vote cannot change anything, then combined with the hassle of dealing with the mail, it is simply too much of a bother for something that won’t change anything anyway.
How about you?
So, if you are an expat, what about you? Do you vote? If not, why not? If so, maybe you can offer tips for others.
If you are yet to become an expat, but are planning to do so, what are your voting plans?