With polls showing the race for president a dead heat, both camps know every vote counts in November. An exhaustive search of LexisNexis(R), a leading provider of legal, news, and business information services, indicates one resource that might be a factor in determining the next president is the expatriate vote
Americans who cast a ballot from abroad. The search provided interesting perspective regarding the number of voters overseas, the movement to protect voters' rights and many other facts that will help in story development leading up to the 2004 presidential election.
With the passage of the 1975 Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Rights Act, all American citizens living outside the U.S. were given the right to vote in federal elections.
Under legislation passed in 1986, the Pentagon's Federal Voting Assistance Program is responsible for helping about 6 million military and civilians overseas cast ballots.
Ten years ago, a bill was introduced in Congress to create a delegate to represent Americans living abroad and to give that delegate the same rights as other non-state delegates elected to the U.S. House of Representatives by residents of the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam. However, the legislation never came to the floor for a vote.
A group of organizations representing U.S. citizens overseas is now urging Congress to revive the issue, prompted in large part by continued congressional interest in eliminating the tax breaks that expatriates receive on part of their salaries earned outside the country.
Expatriate Americans are currently exempt from paying U.S. income tax on wages up to $80,000 annually. - As of July 9, 2004, 340,000 Federal Post Card Applications for absentee ballots were sent in response to requests from voters abroad. That's 90,000 more than the number of requests for the entire 2000 presidential election. -
Absentee-ballot procedures for U.S. citizens living abroad are: Request a Federal Post Card Application for an absentee ballot from the Federal Voting Assistance Program ( http://www.fvap.gov ). - Mail the application to the election official where you last lived or registered to vote. - Most states and territories will send absentee ballots to citizens 30 to 45 days before an election. - Cut-off dates for the receipt of completed absentee ballots vary by state. For dates, check with the local election official or visit the FVAP Web site. - Some states require the return envelope for absentee ballots to be notarized or witnessed. Absentee ballots can be notarized or witnessed at U.S. embassies or consulates.
The Pentagon dropped a $22 million pilot plan to test Internet voting for 100,000 American military personnel and civilians living overseas after lingering security concerns. A group of security consultants hired by the government to poke holes in its Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment (SERVE) did just that. Their scathing report concluded that the Net is so fundamentally insecure that using it for voting in the foreseeable future threatens the integrity of the electoral process.
Americans Abroad - There are no firm statistics on the number of U.S. citizens who live abroad, with estimates from various government and private groups ranging from 3 million to 10 million. - Sources vary when it comes to quantifying the number of eligible American voters abroad. The non-partisan Center for Voting and Democracy says 2 million to 3 million expatriates are eligible voters. Federal officials say roughly 6 million Americans overseas are eligible to vote: 3.2 million private expatriates; 1.4 million members of the armed forces and 1.3 million of their relatives; and about 200,000 State Department workers and other government employees.
It is estimated that about 30 percent of U.S. citizens overseas vote. Overall turnout in the 2000 presidential election was more than 50 percent. According to estimates provided by the Foreign Voter Assistance Program, run by the Department of Defense to facilitate overseas voting, turnout among non-government American civilians abroad in the past four presidential elections has fluctuated between 31 percent and 38 percent of eligible voters
About 70 percent of military personnel vote, and are traditionally Republicans. About 69 percent of uniformed service members voted in 2000, up 5 percent from 1996. But military turnout has ranged from 64 percent to 69 percent; and turnout among government-employed civilians has ranged from 64 percent to 79 percent. - In the 2000 presidential election, about 15 percent of the votes cast were absentee ballots - about double the figure in the presidential race of 1992. -
The U.S. Census Bureau is considering counting Americans abroad in the next census. Mexico, followed by Canada, is widely believed to be first on the list with the largest population of expatriate Americans - the U.S. embassy in Mexico City estimates the number at 350,000, but others say it could be a million or more. Britain is believed to host about 250,000 Americans. Israel, with 158,000 Americans, had 40,000 ballots cast by Americans in the 1996 presidential election. About 67,000 Americans live in Italy.
Democrats Abroad - Democrats Abroad, which is active in more than 37 countries, is an official branch of the Democratic Party. Democrats Abroad was set up in 1964 by party supporters living in the UK and France.
At the Democratic National Convention 2004 in Boston, Democrats Abroad had a delegation of 32 people from 12 countries that included nine delegate votes among the 4,300-plus delegates who nominated John Kerry as the party's candidate.
Membership in Democrats Abroad has doubled since the beginning of 2004 from 8,000 to 16,000. In Britain, the organization has registered 4,000 voters, compared with a few hundred at this time in 2000, according to officials with Democrats Abroad.
Republicans Abroad - Republicans Abroad, formally set up in 1978, says it has branches in about 50 countries. This group is not sending delegates to vote in the Republican National Convention 2004 in August in New York. International Election Legislation Countries worldwide have varying election laws that pertain to their expatriates. Often, immigrants to the United States wield great influence on the outcome of presidential elections in their homelands. Here is a compilation of some of the more interesting cases culled from the LexisNexis database:
Colombia - Four years ago, Colombian immigrants to the United States successfully lobbied for a Colombian constitutional amendment allowing them to retain the privileges of Colombian nationality. Colombian nationals can vote - either in Colombia or at a Colombian consulate abroad - and run for office in their homeland, even after they become United States citizens. - In the 1994 fiscal year, according to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, 12,067 Colombians became American citizens, more than double their numbers in 1991.
Dominican Republic - The Dominican government estimates more than 1 million Dominicans live in mainland United States, mostly New York and Miami, with 100,000 more in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. - The number of overseas voters registered is small: 52,440 of the national total of 5 million. A law passed in 1997 extended presidential voting to citizens abroad and gave them dual citizenship, but the Electoral Commission couldn't organize the polling in time for the 2000 elections. -
The Dominican government says those living abroad send back an estimated $2 billion a year in family remittances, constituting one of the country's main income sources.
Ecuador - Ecuador approved dual nationality last year, though it does not permit voting in its overseas consulates.
El Salvador - According to the 2000 Census, Salvadorans number 765,000 nationwide. Even if the residents abroad do not vote, foreign politicians gave good reason to heed their views: El Salvador receives an estimated $2 billion from expatriates every year - the country's largest source of foreign currency, surpassing all exports and foreign investment.
France - The French, with nearly 2 million citizens settled abroad, have moved ahead to increase the number of people representing expatriate interests in their Senate from four to 12. - France led Europe in creating parliamentary seats specifically for overseas residents. These overseas residents have been represented in the Senate since 1946. In 1948, the High Council of French Citizens Resident Abroad was created to represent expatriate interests to official bodies, including the country's National Assembly. - The French government decided last year to test Internet voting for citizens living abroad. More than 60 percent of the voters in the U.S. used the Internet system rather than mailing ballots or going to an embassy or consulate.
Great Britain - British expatriates had no right to vote until the mid-1980s. They can now vote by proxy in general elections if they have been on a British electoral register at some point in the past 15 years. - Although there has been talk of creating a parliamentary constituency for expatriates, it has foundered because there is no accurate tally of the number and location of British expatriates to use as a starting point to lobby for a seat.
Ireland - Ireland has a constitutional amendment pending that would provide for three members of its Senate to be elected by Irish emigrants. Italy - Italy revised its election laws in 1993 to allow its expatriates to vote in national elections and to permit as many as eight Italians living abroad to become members of its national Parliament.
Mexico - Mexico accounts for more than a quarter of the foreign-born population in the United States with 7.8 million people. In 1996, Mexico granted its citizens who live in the United States the right to cast absentee ballots, instantly creating a bloc of nearly 11 million potential voters. In 1998, Mexico changed its laws to allow dual citizenship. - To date, a balloting mechanism has not been created in the U.S. The government wants the absentee-voting system created by July 5, 2005, so Mexicans living in the United States can vote in their 2006 national elections - a decade after the right was extended to them. - In 2003, Mexicans in the United States sent $12 billion to their families back home - more foreign income than from tourism, foreign investment or exported oil - and, as voters, they would represent 15 percent of the Mexican electorate.
Philippines - For the first time, Filipino citizens living in the U.S. cast ballots in the May 2004 presidential election, thanks to the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, enacted in 2003, which granted voting rights and dual citizenship to Filipinos living overseas.
Portugal - Portugal allows four parliamentarians, two representing Portuguese citizens living in Europe and two for those living in the rest of the world. South Korea - Although the 1.5 million Koreans in the United States can't vote in South Korea's elections, they shape opinion in South Korea.
Switzerland - Switzerland gave expatriates the right to vote in 1992 and allowed them to stand for Parliament in one of the country's 26 cantons. No candidate has won a seat, although one came close in 1999, because of difficulties in gathering support long distance. - To interest their 600,000 citizens overseas in taking part in the country's political life, the Swiss are considering the idea of a 27th canton, which would create two parliamentary representatives for expat interests.
Taiwan - Although Taiwanese officials could not say how many of the roughly 2.4 million people of Chinese descent in the U.S. - 69,000 in the Washington region - vote in homeland elections or donate to campaigns, they said the number is likely small. Trinidad & Tobago - In Trinidad and Tobago, which has allowed the practice since 1988, dual nationals can vote only if they have lived there for a year prior to elections.
Venezuela - In Venezuela's case, immigration into the United States has been more of an elite relocation than a broad-based migration. In 1996, the last year for which data have been published, the United States admitted just 3,468 Venezuelan immigrants, compared with 163,572 Mexicans, 39,604 Dominicans, 26,466 Cubans, and 18,836 Haitians. That same year, Guyana, with a fraction of Venezuela's population, had 2-1/2 times as many immigrants admitted into the United States.