Friday, May 11, 2012

U.S. Expats Offered Stark Choice with New Ballot Wording

Ballot photo by Chris Phan
Just once I would love to read an article entitled "Expat Groups Consulted on Some Law Impacting Expats." But no, it's clear I'm not going to see that any time soon. The latest law impacting expats is explained at Change to Ballot Request Form Angers U.S. Expats.

The short version: a ballot change requires expats to declare that they are:
  1. Planning to return to the US
  2. Planning to never return to the US
The reason for this is because overseas ballots typically allow you to vote in local elections (I still get to vote for Oregon laws) along with the federal ones. This change allows election officials to only distribute federal election ballots to expats to don't plan to return.

On the surface, I actually have no problem with this. I wouldn't mind being excluded from Oregon elections because honestly, they don't impact me. However, the federal elections, particularly for the Presidency, still have a huge impact on me and I don't want my fundamental right to vote stripped from me. However, the choice offered is abysmal.

I know plenty of expats for whom the "are you planning to return" answer is "I don't know". There are others who plan one way and things turn out the other. There are also plenty of Americans born outside of the US who have never in the US and thus cannot "return".

In this case, it does look like the wording was an honest mistake and I was heartened to see the officials admitting it, but with the rather chilling impact of punitive laws being passed against US expats, I'd be concerned that at some point in the future, someone legislator will promote a bill targeting those who are "planning to never return to the US".

1 comment:

  1. This is not a change in the law; this is merely change on the 2011 edition of the Federal Post Card Application, used by U.S. expats to register to vote and request absentee ballots. The story you link to in the New York Times is unnecessarily alarmist, to say the least!

    The reason for the change, as explained by Bob Carey, Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program in Washington, DC, during a conference call this month with overseas citizens groups, is that states determine your right to vote in state and local elections on the basis of your "intent" to return there. Not on the basis of how long you have been or intend to remain abroad.

    Previously, voters were only asked if they were overseas "temporarily" or "indefinitely." Election officials sometimes mistakenly interpreted this declaration and sent voters state and local ballots when they were not actually entitled to vote in state and local elections. As the NY Times story indicates in regard to Texas, this can generate election contests and potentially change the outcome of elections.

    The new language should resolve this problem. Remember the form only asks for your intent to return on the day you complete it; one's intent can change from day to day. There is no problem with that; the State Department and Federal Voting Assistance Program have always instructed us that, when answering this question, one's response is subjective and can change from one election to the next.

    Federal law guarantees--has guaranteed since 1975--that Americans overseas can vote in federal elections, regardless what state officials decide about your eligibility to vote in state and local contests.

    For additional information or assistance with questions about voting from overseas, please don't hesitate to contact us. Our volunteer Voting Assistance Officers have over 40 years experience helping U.S. expats vote from abroad.

    Tony Paschall, Founder & Chair
    Union of Overseas Voters
    4 rue des Arènes
    75005 Paris FRANCE
    +33 1 8416 6204
    Toll-free in France: 0805 696 408