These are questions you might hear as you tell overseas friends, family and colleagues about voting in 2010 from wherever you are.
- How many Americans live overseas? There is no census count of expatriate Americans, but most observers estimate there are more than 6 million Americans living overseas in 160+ countries; about 10 percent are active military or their dependents. There are more of “us” than the populations of West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho and Maine…put together.
- How many are voters? As voters register with their own states, no accurate count is currently available. According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program, the number of eligible American voters overseas is 6.2 million, including 3.7 million civilians and 1.45 million resident military. (The rest are military dependents). The five most represented states are Texas, California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania. The overseas voting process is complicated by both distance, logistics and, sometimes, by unfavorable registration policies; it is estimated that only 2.8 million overseas citizens attempt to vote.
- Who says they can vote? The federal government guaranteed voting rights for U.S. federal elections to overseas citizens and active military and their dependents stationed overseas in 1986 with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). The MOVE Act of 2009 requires the states to use electronic means to facilitate the voting process, to allow at least a 45-day roundtrip for overseas ballots including in state primary elections, and to eliminate any registration requirements unique to overseas voters, such as notarization.
- What is the biggest obstacle? 52 percent of 2008 OVF Post Election Survey respondents who said they did not vote in 2008 blamed late arrival or non-arrival of ballots. Of the 24,000+ participants in the Survey, more than one in four, 22 percent, never received the official ballot they had requested. Of these respondents whose ballot never arrived, eight percent used the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot and the remaining 14 percent did not vote at all. Without daily exposure to American media, overseas Americans are also often unaware of special and primary elections or don’t know who is running for Congress and the Senate.
- How often do overseas voters need to register? Under the MOVE Act, overseas voters must register as absentee voters once every election year starting in 2010.
- Why is overseas voting so complicated? It's confusing because the process is administered by 53 sets of rules and dates (50 states plus American Samoa, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia). The other big problem is the reliance on the mail system, which, of course, varies from country to country. Many states have been slow to adopt electronic means of communication to facilitate the process although, with the 2009 passage of the Move Act, they are now required to do so. All that said, it's worth remembering that many countries don't allow their overseas citizens to vote at all.
- What about the Constitution? Americans believe that the right to vote is sacred and the Supreme Court has found that the Constitution implicitly protects our right to vote. But it leaves all the specifics to the individual states. The Constitution decrees only that the states can't prohibit the right to vote on the basis of race or color (Fifteenth Amendment), gender (Nineteenth Amendment) or to citizens who have reached the age of majority (Twenty-sixth Amendment). In 1986, the passage of the federal law known as UOCAVA guaranteed overseas citizens the right to vote, but this right is still not extended to all American citizens born overseas.
- I'm an American born and raised overseas. Can I vote? It depends on which state your parents come from. Children born to Americans overseas are full citizens; as adults, they must pay taxes and men must register with the Selective Service. But only 18 states allow them to register to vote from overseas using an American parent's voting address. This means that many of these citizens are effectively disenfranchised; only one of these sixteen states, New York, figures among the five biggest home states of Americans overseas. If and when such citizens ever establish residency in a state, however, they are fully eligible to vote from that state.
- Are there a lot of young Americans overseas? The Institute of International Education reported (Open Doors, Nov. 2009) that the number of Americans studying abroad increased by 8.5 percent to a total of 241,791 in the 2007/2008 academic year. That’s four times as many as in 1987/88. Many young Americans are joining international volunteer groups and NGOs as well; the Peace Corps, for example, reported a 18 percent increase in numbers of new recruits in 2009.
- What does Overseas Vote Foundation do? We make it easier for all Americans residing around the world, and military and dependents residing outside their home jurisdiction, to stay active in their home state's electoral process. We do this by providing public access to innovative, online voter registration tools and services including: voter registration and ballot request tools, dynamic generation of Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots, and the most complete and up-to-date directories of state election regulations, deadlines and contact information for local election officials; our users include military, civilian and youth voters through Youth Vote Overseas, launched in 2008.
- How big is OVF? In 2008 OVF launched and managed 17 overseas and military voters’ services sites; 4.75 M individuals visited the sites. OVF also teamed with FedEx to offer “Express Your Vote,” the first express ballot return delivery program.
- How else do we protect the voting rights of overseas Americans? How else do we protect the voting rights of overseas Americans? One of the obstacles to improving the overseas voting process is a dearth of data about who the voters are, where they live and what issues they face. In addition to operating our website, we conduct in-depth and ongoing research on overseas voters. Our 2008 Post Election Survey included responses from more then 24,000 overseas voters and more than 1,000 local election officials. This, and many other ongoing research projects, provide the hard data that election officials and legislators need to further improve the overseas voting process. We also host the annual UOCAVA Summit, a conference on overseas and military voting issues for election officials and other stakeholders in the overseas voting process.
- What are we most proud of? Twenty-nine percent of OVF users voted for the first time in 2008.
- Where else can you find us? Please join us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. If you are 18-29, check out our Youth Vote Overseas site. If you are a member of the active military or a dependent of someone in the armed services, please see our Military Voter Services site.
OVF Outreach Toolkit
- Outreach Cards
- Online Social Networks
- OVF Printable Flyers and Posters
- Email Voter Alerts
- Copy-and-Paste Promotional Blurbs
- OVF Web Banners
- FAQs on Overseas Voting and OVF
- OVF Outreach Checklist
Questions? Write Us!