Outside Politics: Voting Away From Home

Now that I’ve had a month to process the frenzy and climax of the American election, I realize that I’m amazed both by how much my priorities have changed in just sixteen months, and by how keenly aware (and somewhat embarrassed) I am that the rest of the world puts so much stock in what America does.

In the run up to the election, as an American, I found myself constantly on the uncomfortable end of the question, “So do you think Obama is going to get re-elected?” In Ireland, which is pretty Obama happy, I generally knew where I stood when people asked that question.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure what they were really asking.  Was this the tactful Irish way of probing for my political leanings, or, as was clear in most cases, were they asking if the U.S. was really crazy enough to elect “that other guy”.

I found myself wondering ‘Why do they care so much?”

I realize now, that in this age of 24-hour instant access to worldwide coverage, linked markets, and global finances, we are all somewhat tied together. But do they really care who we elect?  The short answer is, “Yes. They care a great deal.” And the reason they care is almost unfathomable to most Americans.

The basic geography of living outside the U.S. (not in “the Superpower”) has, for me, been the single biggest eye opener of the expat experience.  When you don’t have all the power, you do cast a wary eye over your shoulder, knowing that whatever decisions the big dog makes will, even if it takes some time, have an effect on your economy and your way of life.

So, while I’m no longer the car and house-obsessed, comfortable middle class American that I was two years ago, and I’m rooting for Ireland to pull its act together even more than I’m actively hoping for America to do the same, I now appreciate the rest of the world’s obsession with the American election.

I was, however, bothered by the fact that it seemed as easy to be overwhelmed with U.S. electoral information in Ireland as it was back in the States.

Because my wife is a bit of a political junky, I admit that I’d hoped living in Ireland would render this election cycle a bit less factoid filled.  I was naïve enough to think that distance would silence her fanaticism.  Not so.  In fact, distance seemed to make it worse in many ways.  Perhaps the separation (an lack of robo-calls) made her (and, admittedly, me too) feel cut off and yearn for some connection no matter how tenuous and Internet-based.  Of course, the blogosphere and online news services were all too happy to provide.  The result was that we had as much political input, and wonkery as we ever had back at home. And when you factor in the fact that everyone who found out we were American wanted an answer to “the question”, the big decision was even more on our minds, and seemed some even more critical.

That got me wondering if it’s just the United States election, or if any other election cycles are as watched, or have as much bearing, outside their polling zones.  The answer is, I think, “it depends”.  It sounds lame, but it’s true.

The world watched with rapt attention as North Korea appointed its new leader. Granted, it wasn’t an election, but it’s hard to argue that the anointing of Kim Ill Crazy probably affects everyone on the planet.  And, though most of us are not Catholic, we all wait expectantly for that puff of white smoke after a Holy Father pops his clogs.  Again, the Catholic Church is big enough and powerful enough to affect most of us in some way.  So, I’d imagine that if you move from Uruguay to Kenya, you’d probably hang on every word of the Uruguayan election if it somehow had a direct effect on life in Nairobi.  And knowing that diasporas, pilgrims, and refugees often cluster in certain places for reasons of tradition, and cultural/economic support it’s not uncommon for the fate of certain countries to be tied to others.  In these cases, it makes sense that the electoral politics in one would be closely monitored by the other.

Absentee Voting While Living Overseas
Because what happens back at home will likely still have an impact on their life in some way, most people want to retain their voting privileges while they live abroad.  For that reason, it’s critical that they understand their rights in the absentee voting process.

My best advice is look into it sooner rather than later.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Consult your voting office at home before you leave.  It’s likely that the last place you were registered to vote at home will be responsible for approving (or not) your absentee ballot requests.
  2. Give yourself at least six months before an election for your ballot and paperwork to catch up to you.
  3. If necessary, ask questions at the embassy in your new home.  They will generally be up to speed on voting issues for citizens abroad.

Sadly, voting is yet another thing for the potential immigrant to add to their list of pre-move ponderables.

But it’s also kind of amusing to observe the goings on when you feel somewhat detached from the process.

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

  • International Banking

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
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3 Responses to Outside Politics: Voting Away From Home

  1. shannonsapt says:

    Love this post. I arrived in Dublin just in time for the election and everyone asked me who I was voting for. It was very interesting and so different from what I’ve experienced back home where who you vote for is often regarded as a rude question to ask.

  2. Mark Partridge says:

    Had to chuckle at the phrase “factoid filled.” Seems like our elections suffer a dearth of facts, and are filled instead with specious claims and innuendo.

    Question: Since your absentee ballots come from the election board of your last U.S. residence, are they limited to voting for federal office, or can you still vote for state and local candidates and issues ? (Not that you’d likely care much about the County Recorder or Township Trustee!)

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