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Expat Voting

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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?

Voting Rights

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”.

Expat Voting

Expat Voting

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.

Voting Habits

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?

Posted in

Bob Martin

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur. Bob is an American who lived in Mindanao from 2000 until 2019. Bob has now relocated back to the USA.

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Steve Baker
Steve Baker
6 years ago

I guess I can understand to a certain extent voting apathy amoung expats. I will always consider it mandatory as a citizen to vote, but I can understand those who are abroad to “get away” from life in their home countries. With respect to mail, maybe I’ve been lucky. Over the past 8 years or so I’ve probably sent two or three dozen packages or cards and letters to the Philippines and they all have gotten delivered. The same is true of mail sent to me from the Philippines. I’ve always said that if I find my letters are not… Read more »

Adam
Adam
6 years ago
Reply to  Steve Baker

I dont bother voting back in Australia. Not exactly my concern what is happening there these days. As for Philippines mail. All about honesty, or lack of it once again. My mate sent a valentines day card here with 50 dollars in it. Never made it to the person he sent it to here, but was returned to sender in Australia minus the 50 dollars! Yes you are not meant to send money in the mail but we have all done it before and had no trouble. Not here. My wife says that any post that comes here xmas or… Read more »

Jim Hannah
Jim Hannah
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

Dishonesty is largely driven by poverty Adam, and that poverty is in turn exacerbated and maintained by a social and political system which is not based on the same things with which “we” are familiar. I do think that it is completely disrespectful to say that “Filipino’s have no honesty at all…”. I’m not saying that I can’t see the basis for your thoughts, but to tar everyone with the same brush is rather unkind, and not likely to endear you with the people amongst whom you are trying to live. Sorry to pee on your bush, but this is… Read more »

Adam
Adam
6 years ago
Reply to  Jim Hannah

You are welcome to your opinion Jim, but I have lived here full time for two and a half years so have a fair idea. Was maybe being a bit harsh in regards to the dishonesty. 90-95%, not 100%. Even my Filipino wife agrees with this. She lived here for 25 years before living in Australia for two years. On return here she was shocked with how people behave. “never used to be like this” she said. In my experience the people in the bukid ( mountains) are the nicest people. Genuinely poor people who live off the land. One… Read more »

MindanaoBob
6 years ago
Reply to  Adam

I no longer vote much in elections back in the States. Really, as a long time expat, I am only eligible to vote for national and state wide office, which would mean only President, Vice President, and Senator. I will probably try to vote in the Presidential race next year.

MindanaoBob
6 years ago
Reply to  Steve Baker

Hi Steve – I think that in a free society, we have the option to vote or not vote. In fact, not voting, is, in effect, casting a vote of not caring much for any of the choices. I used to operate a business where we did a lot of mailing from the Philippines to people abroad. About 50% of the items we mailed never made it to the destination. It came down to where we had to register everything and use tracking, which was very expensive. Because of my experience, mailing tens of thousands of pieces of mail over… Read more »

Jim Hannah
Jim Hannah
6 years ago

My view is that as a British citizen who now lives in Australia, I don’t participate in UK politics, and although eligible to vote, I choose not to. I will vote in Australian elections since that is relevant to me, and it is also compulsory here, which it is not in the UK. As regards the UK, although I keep a very general eye on UK news (perhaps I flick across the BBC news once a week), it is only very general, and I am therefore very out of touch with current issues. My vote, therefore, would not be based… Read more »

MindanaoBob
6 years ago
Reply to  Jim Hannah

Hi Jim – I am not well informed on the British rules, I only knew about that from reading a couple of articles on the topic while researching the subject. As a non-Citizen here, I am not eligible to vote in the Philippines. I don’t have too much interest in the US elections anymore, except I do care about the general direction of the country. Makes it kind of tough.

John A. Coldwell
6 years ago

I wanted to vote this year in the Canadian elections, but found out that if one has been out of the country more than FIVE (5) years I was ineligible to vote. Bummer!

As for mail delivery to and from the Philippines, it is slow, but I would say 99% of the time it gets there intact.

MindanaoBob
6 years ago

Hi John – If 99% of Philippine mail makes it through, I must be the only guy who is getting hit! I had a business back a number of years ago that caused me to mail tens of thousands of individual pieces of mail, and a high percentage never made it. 🙁

Jay
Jay
6 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Hi Bob,

We don’t actually send mail much to the Philippines, but when I was first corresponding with my wife back in about 2000, I found that when I mailed pictures a lot of times they would not get to their destination. I think when the envelope was thicker someone would think there might be money inside and would take it. I don’t know if that is how it is now.

MindanaoBob
6 years ago
Reply to  Jay

Hi Jay, your experience and mine are virtually identical.

Rusty Bowers
Rusty Bowers
6 years ago
Reply to  MindanaoBob

Bob,

Do you think the mail service has gotten better over the years since you first started mailing items? Does it matter if the mail is sent express or sent via regular mail as far as security is concerned? Or have I just been lucky? Below are some examples of what I’ve done:

Within the last 3 years I’ve mailed, using primarily regular mail, Christmas cards/small packages/other letters and they’ve gotten to their destination. Also, when people have sent me postcards, and letters, they’ve reached me.

So, has the mail system gotten more reliable over the years?

Rusty

MindanaoBob
6 years ago
Reply to  Rusty Bowers

Personally, I don’t think it has changed much, but it is only my opinion.

Rusty Bowers
Rusty Bowers
6 years ago

I’ll vote in the US as I’ve always done. Then I have the right to complain, right? No, I just say the people have spoken.

Rusty

MindanaoBob
6 years ago
Reply to  Rusty Bowers

Good for you, Rusty! You should be proud to vote!

Roy K
Roy K
6 years ago

As a Brit living in Dubai I was unable to vote in the last general election, on 5th May, because of the ludicrous overseas voter registration scheme. The system is (rigged?) such that it was impossible to return the vote in time (there was, I recall, a 3-week window from the form being dispatched to getting it back to the UK). The mail here is atrociously slow and unreliable, and a 3-month period would have been nearer the mark. However, I’m with Jim here, as I am giving up on the UK and pitching camp in the Philippines in a… Read more »

MindanaoBob
6 years ago
Reply to  Roy K

It sounds like voting in the UK, then, is as tough as for as Americans to vote in the US. It is too complicated!

Roy K
Roy K
6 years ago

Oops, in my last post I did of course mean 7th May, not the 5th.

Charles Ruzic
Charles Ruzic
6 years ago

Since I no longer have a residence in the US, to whom do I request an Absentee ballot?

Charles Ruzic

MindanaoBob
6 years ago
Reply to  Charles Ruzic

From the State where you last resided, Charles.

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