Saturday, November 3, 2012

Voting in the American Election as an Overseas Voter

This week, I cast my ballot in the American election. I was proud to have not blown it off but to have figured out how to do it. Figuring it out could be overwhelming, but it really helped to just call the Board of Elections where I last voted and ask them how to do it. There is a military and overseas voter specialist in both the city and county election office. I found it reassuring that two specific people actually had their name attached to making my vote count, and it wasn't a shared responsibility with an entire office, possibly becoming no one's responsibility.

They told me to go online, using my Colorado driver's license, and activate my registration for this election which I did. On September 22nd, all military and overseas voters were emailed instructions on how to download and return an email ballot.

It wasn't as simple as downloading an attachment, clicking on the right box, and then emailing it back. If it was going to be emailed back, it had to be printed, signed, scanned, and sent back. I printed it and then faxed it back. I figured there was less chance for someone to change my ballot if I sent it to the office then if I sent it through email. Fax seems less secure than electronic communication, but in this instance it made me feel more secure. I am basing that on well, no knowledge whatsoever! I called the office and confirmed that it had been received though and I had done everything correctly so my vote would count.

Overseas voters give up their right to a secret ballot. I was okay with that. Again, I am basing that on, knowledge to the contrary that it could be a bad thing.

Thinking about how to make my vote count gave me a feeling of vulnerability. After all, there are people running for office who are okay with my children not getting equal pay for equal work, who want to criminalize private family planning decisions, who approach decisions of war and peace with a buccaneer's attitude. It matters deeply to me that my vote count. I also felt that I couldn't complain, if I hadn't done my part by voting.

I am a much, much more globally-aware voter than I was four years ago. I've grown a lot in perspective since I moved abroad the day after Obama was elected in 2008. While I've always followed foreign affairs, now living overseas, I have a view from the other side informed by living in a completely international community talking with people from all over the world everyday. I understand that it is not just about America and what's best for us (although I appreciate that many Americans find that view hard to give up and don't see why we should).

I see how important our leadership is in so many venues and that it has to be informed by voices from the entire planet. It isn't just about us, because the complexity of the world has grown, and so many decisions are about all of us.

America has unique advantages: size, wealth, a shared tongue, and a stable, old, democracy renewed with ideas from the world's finest research universities. Nations can try and band together to replicate our size, but as the EU has shown, it is harder than it looks. It's interesting to me that one party still calls for sending issues back to the States, rather than solve them at a federal level, when our problems have gone from local to national to now global. To send issues back to smaller units of governance would disadvantage the people's representatives when trying to regulate behemoth global corporations. But maybe that's the point of their philosophy.

I hope leaders like Obama and George H.W. Bush, who are so good at creating a consensus among multiple poles of power all around the world, are our future. The people are currently deciding in this election whether or not to go through life on their own or to instead decide we're all in this together. I hope we choose to see that not only are we are all in this together - it's not just as a nation, but as a planet.

Thanks to all the people who made my ability to vote possible in 2012: American veterans, female sufferagettes, the Founding Fathers, public servants in election offices - see - we're all in this together.


Alison said...

For future reference (because you have to go through this every election) you can also go through to get connected with the appropriate county and receive your ballot. They make it quite easy.

One thing that I think would be useful would be for the government to change the wording from "military-overseas voter" to something that makes it clearer that you don't have to be military to vote overseas. That hyphen that they use gave me a moment of panic.

BacktoBodrum said...

You've spurred me into looking to get my right to vote overseas.

Karen said...

Thanks Alison, for your feedback and your service on this issue. I appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Karen,

Congratulations on voting.

Just one remark: It is not a general rule that overseas voters have to give up the right to secret ballot. We've discovered in some instances this year that voters who request an email ballot MUST return those ballots by electronic means, meaning they must waive ballot secrecy.

But one can always request that your ballot be sent to you by postal mail and/or vote using the back-up Federal Write In Absentee Ballot (FWAB), sending it by mail.

The FWAB is a ballot that is always available to overseas citizens so we never have to miss an election for lack of the official ballot. (To vote in most states you have to have REQUESTED absentee ballots in the calendar year to be eligible to use the write-in.)

The FWAB is available online from the Federal Voting Assistance Program, the overseas voter's one-stop authority for all things related to voting.

Again, thanks for voting, and thanks for reminding our fellow expats to do likewise.

Tony Paschall, Founder & Chair
Union of Overseas Voters
Paris, France

Karen said...

Back to Bodrum, I would be thrilled beyond belief to think that I might have inspired someone to vote. Please do so!

Thanks for the information, Tony and your service to your fellow citizens on a confusing issue.

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