Americans living and serving overseas could tilt the 2020 election – if only they voted

9 mins read

Monica Duffy Toft, Tufts University

U.S. residents who dwell overseas are a largely untapped voter pool large enough to resolve the presidency.

In the 2000 contested presidential election, Republican candidate George W. Bush’s marketing campaign relied on 680 overseas navy ballots to tilt Florida in Bush’s favor.

According to The New York Times, that was part of the Republicans’ strategy to tally as many overseas ballots as potential in counties that favored Bush – even these with out postmarks or validated signatures. In Florida counties that favored Al Gore, they labored to disqualify overseas ballots.

Bush beat Gore by 537 votes.

Just underneath 5 million U.S. residents dwell overseas, serving in the military and embassies or just living in another country. In 2018 an estimated 2.9 million of them had been of voting age, in response to a 2018 Federal Voting Assistance Program report – greater than the inhabitants of Rhode Island, Delaware and Wyoming mixed.

As a political scientist who studies demographics and politics, I’ve noticed how totally different voting blocs, even small ones, can have an effect on the end result of elections. Three million individuals is greater than sufficient individuals to resolve a presidential or congressional race with slim margins.

To try this, although, Americans who dwell overseas must truly vote.

How to vote from overseas

Generally, U.S. residents overseas could could vote in presidential, Senate and House races, although some states additionally permit them to vote for state and native candidates, and on referendums.

Absentee voting overseas is a comparatively simple course of. Ballots might be requested, transmitted and returned by mail, e-mail or fax, depending on one’s state and registration status.

After figuring out themselves as overseas voters from a selected state, U.S. residents living overseas should full and submit a Federal Post Card Application annually to their native election officers, who then verify voter eligibility. The Foreign Voter Assistance Program website may help overseas voters decide which state they are eligible to vote in and request their poll.

Four images of overseas voters and the message 'Don't Let the Elections Pass You By'
A State Department webpage encourages its staffers in Uruguay to vote at https://uy.usembassy.gov/. Department of State

For members of the navy, voter residency is often in the state that they take into account to be their everlasting house and the place they beforehand had a bodily presence. For overseas civilians, like embassy staffers, voting residence is the handle in the state they lived in earlier than leaving the United States. Americans who’ve by no means lived in the U.S. usually register to vote underneath the American address of their parents or legal guardians.

Each state has its personal guidelines on registering to vote from overseas; some are extra versatile than others. Alaska, for instance, permits residents who’ve by no means resided in the U.S. to vote in federal elections if they have a father or mother or authorized guardian who lives in Alaska. In Arizona, the father or mother or authorized guardian should even be registered to vote in Arizona.

Americans overseas who registered to vote and requested their poll however didn’t obtain it in time can nonetheless vote utilizing a federal write-in absentee ballot.

Overseas voters adrift

The voting rights of overseas voters had been enshrined in 1986 with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. In 2010 the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act additional codified worldwide absentee voting procedures and added extra safety and privateness protections.

Yet most Americans select to not vote from overseas.

In the 2018 midterm election, 289,838 U.S. residents overseas requested ballots and 135,507 of these ballots had been returned, a turnout rate of 4.7% among all eligible American voters abroad. Overall voter turnout that yr was about 65% – 14 instances increased. Just underneath 8% of overseas voters participated in the 2016 presidential election.

The participation of American voters overseas varies widely by the country they live in.

Surveys of overseas voters determine obstacles to voting, amongst them worldwide mailing-related issues resembling late ballots, privateness considerations over web safety and lack of know-how about on-line voting. Overseas residents additionally report feeling disconnected from the American political course of.

Military voters receive election help from the Pentagon. Each unit will need to have an officer obtainable to assist service members with voting. U.S. State Department staffers on overseas postings usually have entry to voter schooling seminars or registration drives at embassies.

But common Americans living overseas are just about on their very own. Unlike home voters, they aren’t bombarded by partisan get-out-the-vote messages and political promoting.

There are party-related web sites aimed toward overseas members, however only the Democrats’ web site, www.democratsabroad.org, had up-to-date voting data as of late October. Republicans turning to the GOP web site, www.republicansoverseas.com, will discover extra criticism of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act – a legislation supposed to forestall Americans from illegally hiding their taxable wealth in overseas banks – than about voting from overseas. With the 2020 election days away, its voting information doesn’t seem up to date.

I used to be stunned to search out in my analysis that democratsabroad.com, democratsoverseas.com and democratsoverseas.org had been obtainable as domains, as had been republicansabroad.com and republicansoverseas.org. Anyone could purchase these domains and use them to disseminate misinformation. Already, republicansabroad.org is a German web site apparently unrelated the Republican Party.

Educated male voters

If political events mobilized these far-flung voters – by participating them on points, for instance, and together with them in voter turnout efforts – such voters could be a potent electoral pressure.

Overseas voters are likely to have general increased ranges of schooling relative to the home voters, according to the Foreign Voter Assistance Program report – 67% have bachelor’s levels, in contrast with 32% of home voters. They additionally skew male – 67% are males, in contrast with 49% of home voters.

That demographic data doesn’t provide a lot perception into the political leanings of overseas voters. On one hand, Americans with increased schooling ranges tend to lean Democratic. On the different hand, the Republican Party attracts extra males.

While their occasion affiliation is unknown, by quantity alone overseas voters could tip a decent election a method or the different. This is very true in swing states that, like Virginia and North Carolina, have a big navy presence.

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This November, as in 2016, only a couple thousand votes in such locations could resolve the presidency. Several neck-and-neck Senate and House races – together with ones in Texas and Georgia – will even probably be received with very slim margins.

The votes of Americans overseas have a task to play in the democratic course of. And if greater than 5% solid their ballots, it could be a decisive one.

Monica Duffy Toft, Professor of International Politics and Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation underneath a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Charlene is a Bay Area journalist who hails from the small community of Fresno. Drawing from her experience writing for her college paper, Charlene continues to advocate for free press and local journalism. She also volunteers in all the beach cleanups she can because she loves the water.

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