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Voting From Abroad

Updated on August 4, 2012

Globalization Has Led to More People Living Abroad

Politics, like the economy, are now going global.

Multinational corporations with stockholders, employees and offices scattered throughout the world are common. Thanks to the Internet, modern communication and transportation systems increasing numbers of small businesses are manufacturing and selling globally.

Operating on a global scale has led to businesses deploying their people all around the world. The globalization of the economy has also created many opportunities for people to live and work in nations outside of their home nation.

Entrance to Voting Booth in Tucson, Arizona
Entrance to Voting Booth in Tucson, Arizona | Source

This has led to a huge increase in expatriate or expat populations. Expatriates or expats are citizens of one nation who live in another nation while still retaining citizenship in their homeland or, in some cases are dual citizens having citizenship in both nations.

While there have always been some groups - diplomats, military personnel and people engaged in trade - whose careers have required living and working abroad, they have always been a minority. While still a minority of the population, the number of expats have been increasing in recent years.

In recent decades the expat population has grown to the point where their numbers provide some of them with political clout in their home countries.

Expat Votes in 1988 Were Deciding Factor in Florida U. S. Senate Race

An early instance of this occurred in the 1988 U.S. Senate race in Florida between Democrat Kenneth MacKay and Republican challenger Connie Mack. When the polls closed the Democrat MacKay was ahead and appeared to be the likely winner.

However, when the absentee ballots, many of them from overseas, were counted the Republican Connie Mack ended up the winner.

In the United States, elections are for the most part managed by the states and a person has to be a resident of a state in order to vote.

As home to a number of military bases and not having a state income tax, Florida is both convenient and attractive as a state of residence for expats.

Both U.S. Political Parties are Active Overseas During Presidential Elections

Twelve years later, the absentee ballots cast by expats having Florida as their official state of residence ended up deciding the U.S. Presidential Election in 2000.

In this case the absentee ballots, mostly from overseas, gave George Bush the 537 vote victory which resulted his winning Florida’s 25 electoral votes which were needed by for a majority to win in the Electoral College.

In recent years both the Republican and Democratic parties have set up offices abroad and sponsor fundraisers, voter registration and get out the vote campaigns among expats abroad especially in Presidential election years.

 Colosseum in Rome, Italy.
Colosseum in Rome, Italy. | Source

In 2008 a Fringe Candidate Campaigned for President From Rome

In 2008 candidate Barack Obama traveled abroad during the campaign.

Obama's trip was billed as a fact finding tour but, while he did not participate in any fundraising events he did give a widely reported political speech in Berlin that was aimed at both the large American expat population in Germany as well as voters in the U.S.

The 2008 Presidential Primaries also had a fringe candidate running for the Republican nomination from Rome. Jack Shepard, an American expat residing in Rome, Italy and campaigning from there, managed to get his name on the Republican Primary ballot in some states, including Arizona where I live.

Campaign Signs crowd the roadside at election time.
Campaign Signs crowd the roadside at election time. | Source

Like the hundreds of other fringe candidates that got their names on the Republican, Democratic or minor party primary ballots (and the 300 or so that ran in the general election as the nominee on minor party tickets) he failed to garner enough votes to even get his name listed among the losers.

As I write this the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, just returned from a six day tour where he visited England, Israel and Poland.

Fundraising and photo opportunities were a big part of the trip but he also sought expat votes as well.

Polish Candidates also Campaign Abroad

America’s politicians are not the only ones seeking expat votes. Politicians from other nations travel abroad, including to the United States, to campaign for votes from their expats.

Polish politicians frequently travel abroad in search of expat votes. Chicago is often a favored target as it is second only to Poland’s capital, Warsaw, in terms of the number of Poles living there.

According to a 2008 article in the British newspaper The Telegraph some 69,000 immigrant Polish workers in Britain were not only able to vote in the 2007 Polish Parliamentary election but were able to do this at one of twenty polling stations set-up around the UK apparently in cooperation with the British government.

In other parts of the world Polish expats apparently have to vote by mail.

Britain's Numerous Expats Can't Vote in British Elections But Also Don't Have to Pay UK Income Taxes

British and Irish expats appear not to be able to vote at all from abroad.

A number of British expats are probably retirees who have moved to a warmer climate. Many others are wealthier people who have moved abroad to avoid Britain’s high taxes.

And thousands of British doctors have left the UK rather than work in the National Health Service. (NHS) .

French Flag  above Marseille
French Flag above Marseille | Source

French Expats Elect Their Own Representatives To the National Assembly

France and Italy not only allow their nationals living abroad to vote in both national and local elections (as well as in elections for the European Parliament) but in recent years both have created new Parliamentary Districts for different regions outside of these two nations.

This is not the same as the French Parliamentary districts for French Overseas Departments, which politically the same as Departments within France itself, and Overseas Collectives which enjoy similar status except that they may have local laws that differ from the rest of France. Both of these elect members to the National Assembly and Senate of France.

Instead these are new National Assembly districts that cover nations outside of France in which large numbers of expats reside.

Eleven new French National Assembly Districts were created and elections for them took place for the first time in the 2012 French national election cycle.

One of these new National Assembly Districts encompasses the United States and Canada (except for the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon in the Gulf of St. Lawrence which is a French Overseas Collective and has its own representation in the French Parliament.)

An Outdoor Cafe in Genoa, Italy
An Outdoor Cafe in Genoa, Italy | Source

Italian Expats Elect Own Representatives to Italian Chamber of Deputies and Senate

The Italian model is similar to the French model and, being started with the 2006 Italian Parliamentary elections, preceded the French in creating seats in Parliament for overseas constituencies.

The Italians created four overseas divisions consisting of:

  1. Europe
  2. South America
  3. North and Central America
  4. Africa, Oceania and the Antarctic

A total of twelve members of the Chamber of Deputies and six senators are elected from these four areas in which combined have close to three million Italians who are eligible to vote in Parliamentary elections from abroad.

Taxes are Another Consideration for Expats

In today’s world, with so many people moving around, we can easily assume that every nation on earth has some of its citizens living other nations. Some of these nations, like the United States, have always allowed their expat citizens vote and help with political campaigns back home.

Others, like France and Italy, have recently begun providing ways for their expat citizens to have a voice in domestic politics back home.

Of course not every nation allows this. As of this writing, British expats, unlike their American counterparts, cannot vote in elections back home.

Then again, in addition to limiting voting to British subjects residing in the United Kingdom, the Inland Revenue in Britain limits its collection of income taxes to income earned in the United Kingdom by those residing in the UK. British expats, remain British subjects but are not subject to British income taxes.

America, on the other hand, allows all citizens, including expats, to vote while also requiring every citizen and permanent resident (non-citizen holders of Green Cards) , regardless of where they reside to pay income taxes on their world -wide income.

The only way to escape U.S. income taxes is to pay a special tax that allows a U.S. citizen to renounce their citizenship and limits or denies them future rights to enter the U.S. even to visit.


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    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      6 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Nan Mynatt - thanks for your comment although I have to respectfully disagree with your points about U.S. citizens living abroad and harm to the U.S. from giving money to other countries (by which I presume you mean purchasing products from other nations).

      As to living abroad, many U.S. expats are members of the military stationed at U.S. bases abroad, Americans working in our embassies, consulates and other diplomatic operations abroad as well as Americans working in foreign branch operations of U.S. companies.

      It is true that money leaves the country when investors invest in operations or companies abroad or people purchase products or services produced in other nations and exported to the U.S. However, despite the fact that jobs in some industries may be lost due to production being done by either U.S. subsidiaries abroad or foreign companies, other jobs are created in the U.S. to handle the sale, service, distribution, etc. of the foreign products.

      Simply visit any dealership in the U.S. selling foreign cars and count the number of sales people, customer support people and service people employed within the dealership itself.

      The same is true of cell phones. This is an industry that practically didn't exist two decades ago. Yet it is nearly impossible to encounter any shopping center or commercial district in any city or town in the U.S. without finding at least one stand alone cell phone sales outlet (selling only a particular cell phone company's cell phones) as well as stores like Walmart which have a large cell phone sales area. Again, while much of the product is produced abroad all the sales and service people are Americans.

      As to poverty itself in the U.S. comparing poverty today to that of 50 years ago is difficult due to definition and measurement problems. The Federal Government has an income figure that determines whether a person or family is considered to be in poverty or not but this figure does not consider the value of free government services such as food stamps, medical care, housing, childcare, etc. that many below the income poverty line qualify for. It also doesn't consider how much prices or standards have changed. Food costs today, as a percentage of a household's income, are lower for almost all income classes than they were 50 years ago. Look at census data from 30, 40 or 50 years ago and note the number of homes (especially in rural areas) that lacked indoor plumbing. Today I not only doubt you would find very many. Also, 50 years ago homes with indoor plumbing usually had one bathroom, two or three bathrooms, even in apartment homes, are the norm. Clothing prices are much lower today than 50 years ago - so much so that that for many the problem is not finding money in the budget for new clothes but finding closet space for all that we continue to purchase. Used clothing used to be donated to thrift shops that catered to the poor. Today, resale shops selling "gently used" clothing are becoming increasingly common and increasingly patronized by middle and upper income customers looking for greater variety or good deals while the poor can afford to purchase clothing new from places like Walmart.

      As always, thanks again for visiting and commenting on my Hubs.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      6 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Justsilvie - thanks for the comment and the link. You are correct about expats being able to avoid double taxation by receiving a credit for U.S. taxes owed for taxes paid to the nation in which they are living and working. The tax credit also applies to investors, including small ones owning a few shares of foreign stocks from which taxes have been withheld from dividends on the stock. These amounts withheld for foreign taxes can usually be deducted as a credit directly from the U.S. income tax owed.

    • profile image

      Nan Mynatt 

      6 years ago

      Of you love the United States you would not be living abroad. My father was from England, and my other ancestors were native Americans. We are destroying the US by giving our money to other countries. The poverty rate is the highest in 50 years!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great Hub! Luckily many Us Expats are in countries with US treaties, limiting their tax liability and avoid double taxation. But they get cranky if you don't file.

      Helpful Link!

      Tax Guide for US Citizens And Residet Aliens Abroad

      P.S. The Democrats are more active abroad then the Republicans... that says a lot..


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