Politics Abroad: Making an Effort to Vote When You Live Outside the U.S.

With the results of the 2018 American midterm elections settling down, many fellow expats and I have found ourselves talking increasingly less about candidates, platforms, and registration dates. Life is moving on, finding a new rhythm in a place far away from home. As Americans living abroad, staying politically informed and active takes time, energy, and attention. That said, moving to a foreign country can make one more informed or completely ignorant; it’s up to the individual.

Before reaching the virtual voting booth, expats have to choose how to intake political information and news from home or whether to look for it at all. This first decision, made consciously or not, naturally affects how the individual will interact with American politics. It is extremely easy to ignore news stories and updates from the States. Television, newspapers, protests, and conversations are obviously focused on domestic politics, so unless an expat is searching social media, reading online newspapers, or following social leaders, they will remain in the dark.

In my experience, however, most expats are informed and aware of the events in the American political world. It seems like when people leave the States, they become more aware of the importance of politics, especially regarding how countries are run and how those laws affect people’s lifestyles. This change in awareness is essentially a shift in perspective. Living under another country’s laws and political system brings into focus how differently laws can be written, enforced, and viewed.

Suddenly, expats are more vividly aware of the rules and regulations from their home country and the perceived normal procedures. These were previously taken for granted, but living submerged in a foreign world and learning firsthand how other systems work highlights the need for knowledge of one’s own political system.

Voting is a right, but participation is a choice, and the foundation of participation is being informed.

Unfortunately, most American expats and emigrants choose not to participate. Out of nearly five and a half million American citizens living abroad, only about 45 percent are registered to vote or requested absentee ballots. Among those registered to vote, roughly 4 percent actually voted in the 2014 midterm elections. Presidential elections typically enjoy more voter turnout, but the numbers are still abysmally low. Considering that the American voter turnout usually hovers around 50 percent, it is not surprising that overseas voters would show similar levels of absence.

While requesting and sending absentee ballots is not difficult, it does require thought, planning, and money. A registered expat or immigrant must first request an absentee ballot; they may send this ballot virtually or physically, but the request itself must be physically sent to the local voting office. Once received, the ballot will be sent out. Lastly, the ballot must be received by the voter and returned to the local voting office. Expats can typically check a vote’s reception online to ensure it has been properly counted.

Although this process is not particularly cumbersome, it can be initially confusing and does take a significant amount of time from start to finish. Therefore, many Americans abroad simply do not partake. Despite political participation not requiring any special interest in politics and being considered the duty of every citizen, it still requires a bit of personal motivation. Assuming someone cares enough in the first place, they must then carefully follow through on a somewhat long process.

It is not just the official voting that changes when an American moves abroad. Casual interactions also change, especially interpersonally.

With a more global perspective, it is harder to relate to those focused on strictly local issues. It is difficult to revert back to an American-centric mindset. This changed perspective affects how an overseas voter views social relations and political priorities. Thus, conversations with friends and family take a lot more effort. Informed Americans abroad rely on newspapers, journalists, activists, or word of mouth to get their news, whereas Americans at home are submerged in the rhetoric.

While watching television, listening to the radio, or talking with others, various opinions and facts are constantly flying around citizens who still live in the U.S., whereas expats and emigrants hear the opinions of and interact with the locals from the country in which they reside. These locals, with their own concerns and biases, often have a vastly different opinion from Americans, and it does shape an expat’s mind.

For example, my coworkers are very concerned with America’s military. Considering they must live with North Korea as a neighbor, this is a natural concern, but the conversations we have make me realize the varying perspectives in which individuals can view the same topic. It allows me to understand how others may perceive the military’s presence, which, as a result, might change my opinion. This opinion is reflected in whom and what I choose to support with my vote.

Ultimately, the voting experience abroad is vastly different and more purposeful compared to back home. It is also more apathetic; many choose to actively ignore the news and not register as absentee voters. A long and more expensive process, combined with the distance, makes voting easy to ignore, but the recent trend of upward political engagement is a positive sign.

With presidential elections having slight, steady increases since 2012, the 2018 midterm election finally matched its presidential counterparts by seeing about half the population (47.5%) of eligible voters turn out. Some of the races in individual states were even decided by early mailed-in votes, such as the gubernatorial race in Georgia, where 24,379 votes were needed for a recount and a little over 25,000 were submitted by mail. Every vote indeed counts, whether it’s handed personally to the clerk or mailed from across the globe. Hopefully, more expats and emigrants will make the choice to pay attention and vote in future elections. In the end, what counts are the votes actually sent in, motivated by informed and caring people hoping to improve their home country from afar.

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Fascinated by words and how human stories create our global narratives. All we really have are our stories, and they are consistently what keeps human culture alive. Currently teaching English in South Korea and, in my free time, traveling, writing, prepping for graduate school, and watching Parks and Recreation.

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Politics Abroad: Making an Effort to Vote When You Live Outside the U.S.

With the results of the 2018 American midterm elections settling down, many fellow expats and I have found ourselves talking increasingly less about candidates, platforms, and registration dates. Life is moving on, finding a new rhythm in a place far away from home. As Americans living abroad, staying politically informed and active takes time, energy, and attention. That said, moving to a foreign country can make one more informed or completely ignorant; it’s up to the individual.

Before reaching the virtual voting booth, expats have to choose how to intake political information and news from home or whether to look for it at all. This first decision, made consciously or not, naturally affects how the individual will interact with American politics. It is extremely easy to ignore news stories and updates from the States. Television, newspapers, protests, and conversations are obviously focused on domestic politics, so unless an expat is searching social media, reading online newspapers, or following social leaders, they will remain in the dark.

In my experience, however, most expats are informed and aware of the events in the American political world. It seems like when people leave the States, they become more aware of the importance of politics, especially regarding how countries are run and how those laws affect people’s lifestyles. This change in awareness is essentially a shift in perspective. Living under another country’s laws and political system brings into focus how differently laws can be written, enforced, and viewed.

Suddenly, expats are more vividly aware of the rules and regulations from their home country and the perceived normal procedures. These were previously taken for granted, but living submerged in a foreign world and learning firsthand how other systems work highlights the need for knowledge of one’s own political system.

Voting is a right, but participation is a choice, and the foundation of participation is being informed.

Unfortunately, most American expats and emigrants choose not to participate. Out of nearly five and a half million American citizens living abroad, only about 45 percent are registered to vote or requested absentee ballots. Among those registered to vote, roughly 4 percent actually voted in the 2014 midterm elections. Presidential elections typically enjoy more voter turnout, but the numbers are still abysmally low. Considering that the American voter turnout usually hovers around 50 percent, it is not surprising that overseas voters would show similar levels of absence.

While requesting and sending absentee ballots is not difficult, it does require thought, planning, and money. A registered expat or immigrant must first request an absentee ballot; they may send this ballot virtually or physically, but the request itself must be physically sent to the local voting office. Once received, the ballot will be sent out. Lastly, the ballot must be received by the voter and returned to the local voting office. Expats can typically check a vote’s reception online to ensure it has been properly counted.

Although this process is not particularly cumbersome, it can be initially confusing and does take a significant amount of time from start to finish. Therefore, many Americans abroad simply do not partake. Despite political participation not requiring any special interest in politics and being considered the duty of every citizen, it still requires a bit of personal motivation. Assuming someone cares enough in the first place, they must then carefully follow through on a somewhat long process.

It is not just the official voting that changes when an American moves abroad. Casual interactions also change, especially interpersonally.

With a more global perspective, it is harder to relate to those focused on strictly local issues. It is difficult to revert back to an American-centric mindset. This changed perspective affects how an overseas voter views social relations and political priorities. Thus, conversations with friends and family take a lot more effort. Informed Americans abroad rely on newspapers, journalists, activists, or word of mouth to get their news, whereas Americans at home are submerged in the rhetoric.

While watching television, listening to the radio, or talking with others, various opinions and facts are constantly flying around citizens who still live in the U.S., whereas expats and emigrants hear the opinions of and interact with the locals from the country in which they reside. These locals, with their own concerns and biases, often have a vastly different opinion from Americans, and it does shape an expat’s mind.

For example, my coworkers are very concerned with America’s military. Considering they must live with North Korea as a neighbor, this is a natural concern, but the conversations we have make me realize the varying perspectives in which individuals can view the same topic. It allows me to understand how others may perceive the military’s presence, which, as a result, might change my opinion. This opinion is reflected in whom and what I choose to support with my vote.

Ultimately, the voting experience abroad is vastly different and more purposeful compared to back home. It is also more apathetic; many choose to actively ignore the news and not register as absentee voters. A long and more expensive process, combined with the distance, makes voting easy to ignore, but the recent trend of upward political engagement is a positive sign.

With presidential elections having slight, steady increases since 2012, the 2018 midterm election finally matched its presidential counterparts by seeing about half the population (47.5%) of eligible voters turn out. Some of the races in individual states were even decided by early mailed-in votes, such as the gubernatorial race in Georgia, where 24,379 votes were needed for a recount and a little over 25,000 were submitted by mail. Every vote indeed counts, whether it’s handed personally to the clerk or mailed from across the globe. Hopefully, more expats and emigrants will make the choice to pay attention and vote in future elections. In the end, what counts are the votes actually sent in, motivated by informed and caring people hoping to improve their home country from afar.

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