How Americans Can Vote Abroad

How Americans Can Vote Abroad

Millions of people can vote for the next US president even though they do not live in America. If the outcome is close, their votes are also important – but it is made difficult for them.

© Ralph Peters / imago images/Ralph Peters

The typical first-time voter is a lot younger than the American Naran Tsakuginow. The 77-year-old, who lives in Munich, has never cast a ballot. But Tsakuginov wants to have a say in the presidential election on November 3rd.

As a US soldier, he came to Germany many years ago and stayed. The politics of the country that had once taken in his family from the Soviet Union has so far been of little interest to him, but that’s different now: “My parents emigrated to a democracy called the USA over 70 years ago,” he says, “and so do I.” think that the man who is now sitting in the Oval Office divides this democracy. ”

Something else worries him: Tsakuginov worries that his vote will not reach the polling office on time. The reason for this is the difficulties the US Post has with delivery. Overseas voters are particularly hard hit because of the long distances involved.

Hurdle run for voting

Americans who want to cast their votes from abroad often face even greater hurdles than the approximately 250 million eligible voters in the country itself. In the event of a tight election, however, their votes could also be decisive.

In addition to the generally required registration, US citizens living abroad usually have to request the election documents separately. However, the electoral authorities often send them postal voting envelopes intended for domestic use. “The voting instructions are not good, many have questions,” said Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president and founder of the non-partisan US Vote Foundation and Overseas Vote, which supports Americans abroad in voting.

The first thing these voters need to know is where their polling station is. You can find it in the US state you last lived in – or, if you were born overseas, your parents’ last place of residence. A current address in the USA is not required.

Candice Kerestan, chairwoman of Democrats Abroad in Germany, has advised her 16,000 members to contact the election office personally. “It pays to keep asking until you actually have your documents in your mailbox.”

Once the ballot papers have been filled out, almost each of the 50 states has its own rules on how, by what route and by when the ballot papers must be received. In 21 US states, there is a general obligation to send the documents by post or to hand them over to a US embassy or consulate so that they can be sent by diplomatic mail.

However: Because of the corona pandemic, many US agencies around the world have discontinued this service. And in some countries travel restrictions currently make it impossible to get there. Therefore, at the beginning of October, American voters from Europe, Thailand, New Zealand and Singapore filed a lawsuit against election officials in seven affected US states in order to be able to submit ballot papers by e-mail. Every US state must in principle also allow electronic voting, but some find it difficult to do so. Some still offer the fax as the only option besides the classic letter.

The US Postal Service, which first-time voter Tsakuginov is hoping for, has become a political issue. Not just claimed US-Präsident Donald Trump For months it has been wrong to claim that postal voting in the US is a source of the Election fraud be. Many shipments and letters are stored in sorting centers for weeks due to budget cuts and the consequences of the corona crisis. In addition, because of the pandemic, so many Americans vote by letter than ever before. If your documents do not arrive on time, which you will be informed of upon request, you can still vote personally on November 3rd.

The 2016 presidential election has already shown the importance of the voices that come from overseas. Outside the United States, there are 4.8 million eligible Americans. In addition, there is a significant number stationed soldiers, some with family.

Almost half of all votes from abroad were in Donald Trump’s victory in the particularly competitive Swing States given, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas is also sometimes included. It was similar in the 2018 congressional elections.

Germany plays a prominent role in this, because the US citizens living here are the most active group of overseas voters in large countries outside America. Their turnout in 2018 was more than double that of their compatriots living in the UK, Canada or Israel.

Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat can only guess why this is so: “When Americans live in Germany, for example, their perspective increases on many things. They experience the stark contrasts: a government that functions in a crisis versus a non-functioning government in the USA. ”

Carolyn Stransky is voting for the third time from Berlin in Wisconsin. The 27-year-old software developer says that she too received a wrong envelope and that the instructions did not match the voting slip. “I’ve read everything five times and tried to get it right.” As an international voter, Stransky has to sign the envelope and a witness has to certify that she cast her vote personally.

The exam in the election offices is sometimes a little too precise: “A friend’s vote was rejected in the 2016 presidential election because her signature on the envelope did not match the one on her driver’s license,” says Stransky. But because the American lived in Germany, there was not enough time to repeat the vote.

“If casting my vote is so stressful for me, even though I’m interested in politics and elections, then I wonder how others are doing who don’t get that much information,” she says. And adds: “I think that this procedure causes a lot of frustration and maybe also prevents people from choosing.” She just wants her voice to count.


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