Sunday, May 9, 2010

Absentee voting

Given the recent UK election, we discuss voting as an expat.


America. Home of the free. Land of my fathers (well, father, anyway; grandpa was born in Lancashire). My rock. My anchor. My bolthole if things go really tits up. My primary source of retirement income. And you ask if I still vote in that country?

Bet your sweet fanny (sorry, British readers) I do!

As a dual citizen—or more specifically, an American who does not live in America—I am allowed to vote. I if had maintained my previous residence, I could have voted, not only for President, but for my senators, representatives, county executive, local sheriff and village dog-catcher, as well. But having moved permanently to Britain, I have forfeited my local constituencies and can only vote in the Presidential election every four years. And that’s a pity, because I would feel like I was getting more for my money if I could vote more.

I vote because I was brought up to believe voting is not a right, or a privilege, but a duty. I vote because I still love my country and want to feel connected. I vote because I have a vested interest in America. I vote because I feel it matters.

But primarily I vote because I don’t want them to forget me. Oh, they remember me well enough when tax time rolls around (yes, I continue to file a US tax return every year) but when it comes time to start giving some of that money back, I want them to know I am still an active, registered voter. Because, believe it or not, that does matter.

So I continue to vote, tugged on by a combination of civic duty, pride, homesickness and self interest. And I would be surprised if a lot of other expats didn’t feel the same way.


How funny – I feel exactly the opposite. Actually, I can’t vote in the UK any more because I haven’t been registered to vote in the last 15 years; but even if I could, I’m not sure I feel right about sticking my nose in after all these years. I mean I haven’t lived there for twenty years, and I don’t pay taxes there. What right do I have then to tell resident Brits how to run the country?

If I’m being truly honest, it’s hard enough to keep up with the various political parties and their plans in the USA. Oh wait, that’s probably because they never actually tell you straight what they’re plans are, and a lot of them are prone to changing their minds and even changing parties.

But back to the UK. If anyone challenged me about voting when I didn’t have to live with the consequences, my response would probably be “Fair point.” To me it would be like trying to influence the curriculum of my old school. I may care passionately about the future of the girls still there, (okay, okay, I’m being hypothetical) but it wouldn’t really be appropriate for me to go back and try to change things.

Like Mike and many others, I believe we all have a duty to vote, especially if we feel the urge to complain about things every now and then. However, I also believe that to vote, you should educate yourself on the issues and take the trouble to find out what the various options on offer really mean. I also feel that voters should have a vested interest in the outcome and technically, I'm not sure I have that. Not wanting to vote doesn’t mean that I don’t care. I go back to England as often as three school kids and their schedules allow; who knows, I may even live there again some day, but until then, I’ll vote in the US where it affects me on a day to day basis.

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  1. I can understand both these points of view.
    What I can't understand is the way people who live here and CAN vote, just not caring enough to bother.

    We are in a bit of a mess because of our silly electoral way of voting. I do believe it should be changed and I do hope that Nick Clegg will decide if he wants to form a coalition with either of the other two parties, tomorrow.
    We might have to go all through this again otherwise.
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  2. Didn't that happen in the 70's with Jim Callaghan? Two elections in less than 6 months. What a pain. At least the build up is only about a month. Over here we just go from one election to the other. Almost as soon as Obama got in, they started talking about who might run against him in 2012.

  3. I think if I was a Brit living in the States I would feel as EPM does; after all, I only vote in my national election, not any local elections. So voting for my PM would be voting locally, and I wouldn't want to do that.

  4. I didn't vote in Britain for the same reason as Toni, I"ve lived here for 14 years and don't feel that understand the issues in Britain well enough to vote. I can't vote in the US either though, as I'm a green card holder, not a citizen. My husband is in a similar situation, his nationality is Danish, but never having actually lived there he can't vote there, and he is a green card holder, not a citizen in the US. He has actually never voted anywhere, despite holding strong political views!

  5. I had wondered, actually, where you two (Mike and Toni) got to vote. I think it's probably easier to keep up with what's going on in the States when you're not in the country than what's going on in the UK, so in your positions I'd probably kind of agree with both of you at the same time.

    How do British expats vote, anyway, if they're not resident anywhere in Britain? They don't have a constituency, and here you're not just voting for Prime Minister but also your local MP at the same time. At least, at the moment!

  6. I'm all about voting for whatever I can. Fortunately for me when I did live outside the US I still had residency, since I was a student, so I could vote in local elections. My mother had to get me (well had to go in person to request) an absentee ballot for town elections once and they said mine was the ONLY one they were sending out of state. So apparently I'm a little more umm... diligent about these things than most people are.

  7. The funny thing is that when I just had a green card, I used to get called for jury duty all the time (and couldn't do it). Now that I've been a citizen for 8 years, I've never been called once. Of course, I've just jinxed that one haven't I?

  8. "How do British expats vote, anyway, if they're not resident anywhere in Britain? They don't have a constituency, and here you're not just voting for Prime Minister but also your local MP at the same time. At least, at the moment!"

    I think you get a vote in the constitiency your last UK address was in.

    And to be clear, we're don't vote for PM and MP at the same time, we only vote for our MP.

  9. The other thing I was wondering - The rule is that if you haven't been registered in the last 15 years you can't vote. That's me because I didn't want to vote (for the reasons above), so didn't keep up with the registration. If I had continued to vote (thus being registered) would I be able to vote in the UK for ever and ever despite the fact that I wasn't resident? Probably.


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