Sunday, August 26, 2007

Myths About Overseas Voting -- Setting the Record Straight

Recently, Democrats Abroad international secretary Robbie Checkoway wrote down all the reasons that he has heard over the years from Americans telling him why they don't register and vote. His responses are both informative and well-reasoned, and I wanted to share them. And here's Robbie:

As Democratic activists hear frequently, Americans living abroad may grouch about US politics daily, but fail to register and vote for a variety of reasons. US politics is too far removed from my daily life. They don't count overseas ballots. I can't vote because I no longer have a US address. I don't need to register; I already did in 2004. The next US election is in 2008. One vote can't make a difference. If I vote, the IRS will hassle me. Voting from abroad is too complicated. I'm not represented.

Let's look at those arguments one by one.

US politics is removed from the daily life of Americans living abroad: A fellow AIDS activist commented to me that US politics must seem pretty remote since I've lived overseas for more than three decades. No, I told him, I see the negative impacts of this administration every day. Promoting faith-based AIDS prevention and abstinence rather than condoms are two examples where our government fails Americans at home, and fails to use our tax dollars effectively abroad. Never mind the global impact of Administration arrogance and policy failures from Iraq to North Korea to Palestine, from security issues to AIDS to global warming--we are all impacted, wherever we may live.

They don't count overseas ballots: Every vote must be counted. It's the law. A winner may be called before overseas votes are counted, if the number of outstanding ballots is less than the margin between candidates. But before the results are certified, every ballot must be counted.

Americans outside the US share the concern of those at home regarding election integrity and protection of basic voting rights. Democrats Abroad is working to address the denial of voting rights of black soldiers.

I can't vote; I no longer have a US address: In every election, some of the tens of thousands of the members of Democrats Abroad experience hindrances in registration, largely because local election officials do not understand the federal regulation that allows voters who live outside the US to vote in their last place of residence--even if the address no longer exists. In 2004, this was exacerbated by local GOP mailings to the voter at his or her registered address. If the card or letter was returned, the GOP took these to election officials and got voter registrations annulled. Although some overseas Americans' registrations were initially denied, Democrats Abroad worked with local election officials to inform them of the law, and to get registrations re-instated--and we have improved and formalized those procedures for voters using to register for the 2008 election.

I don't need to register; I already did in 2004 or 2006: Voters living abroad should send in a ballot request every election year. Although a recent federal law states that a single ballot request should be valid for four years, thousands of elections officials are tasked with implementing the law. See the above item: Not all elections officials understand federal regulations.

The next US election is in 2008. OR a variant of this: I can only vote in federal elections, so I cannot vote again until 2008. As anyone reading Kos knows, there is an election of critical importance this year. And voters living outside the US can vote in ALL federal offices: that includes the important House and Senate races in their voting is jurisdiction.

One vote can't make a difference. Remember the 2004 Washington state governor's race? Decided by 127 votes. A handful more Democratic votes per precinct would have pulled Kerry ahead of Bush in IA, NM and OH.

If I vote, the IRS will hassle me. Wrong again. Voting for federal offices does not affect the determination of tax residence. Voting for state and local offices may; you need to know the applicable laws for your voting state.

Voting from abroad is too complicated. That used to be true--registration was done on a postcard form, relying on an inch-thick handbook. All that information has been distilled into the wizard, which guides you through only those questions required by your voting state. Takes three to five minutes to work through the wizard; print, sign, and mail. Most states deliver your ballot to your snail mail box, although an increasing number send ballots as e-mail attachments which have to be voted, signed and mailed through the postal service.

Final issue: I am not represented. I wish I could say "Wrong again." Technically, you are represented by the Senators from your voting state, and the Congressperson representing your district. But IA Senator Grassley is rumored to have said (can't find a link) that the reason he stuck it to overseas Americans in the recently enacted Tax Relief bill was because they didn't have anyone representing lobbying for them in Washington--defining representation GOP-style.

Since overseas votes are the only paper ballots in many jurisdictions; let's celebrate Independence Day by showing appreciation of that paper trail. Push back against the erosion of our liberties. If you're not yet registered, is the site. If you have already registered, go there to join Democrats Abroad--and pass the word to your acquaintances and family living outside the US.

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