}

Monday, November 05, 2018

Yes, I voted

I’ve voted in the 2018 US Midterm Elections. There were things that were new to me this year, and the need for my vote is minimal—which is the main reason I voted. There’s more to all that, of course.

All US citizens living overseas are entitled to vote in US elections, though what elections and offices will vary depending on the citizen’s circumstances and state laws. At a minimum, US citizens living overseas are entitled to vote in all federal elections, that is, President/Vice President, US Senator, and US Representative, all from the last US address the citizen was registered at.

It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since the person lived at that address, or even if there’s any housing at that address any more. All that matters is that the citizen was legally registered to vote at that address before moving overseas.

What happens after that varies from state to state, and some make it much harder to do than other states do. My native Illinois is in the middle of the pack, in which some things are easy, others are not. On balance, however, it’s lightyears better than the states that make it difficult.

A citizen living overseas registers to vote every two years (in time the federal election cycle) using a process called the FPCA (Federal Post Card Application) process, something every state must support by law. It used to be that one could register less frequently, like every four years, but the law was changed to make it harder.

A voter registers before the state’s primary election, and they will receive a ballot for the general election, too. I didn’t vote in the Illinois Primary this year only because I was disorganised. But I was also tempted to skip voting in the general election because this year’s there’s only one office I can vote for, US Representative, because neither US Senator from Illinois is up for re-election this year.

Illinois’ 9th Congressional District is represented by Jan Schakowsky, who was elected to succeed Sidney R. Yates, who represented the district for all but two years between 1949 and 1999. When I lived in Chicago, I voted for Yates, and as an ex pat I’ve voted for Schakowsky.

I thought about not bothering to vote this year because the district is overwhelmingly Democratic, and there’s no doubt that Schakowsky will win re-election. But for months I’ve been preaching the importance of voting for Democrats no matter what, and I needed to practice what I preached.

So, I submitted my FPCA application late, and received the ballot and information by email. The postal version hadn’t arrived as of today, so I used the PDFs they emailed me. I’d never done that before.

I was careful—VERY careful—to follow the instructions to the letter, to make sure my vote is counted. The way it works is that the envelope containing a ballot must be postmarked on or before the date of Election Day. If the postmark can’t be read for whatever reason, they go by the date on the certification the voter signs and affixes to the outside of the envelope containing the actual ballot. I voted yesterday, and posted it today, both before deadline.

The photo up top is a sample of the ballot I received. The law says that no one can watch me mark my ballot (which created a problem ten years ago when I wanted to make a video about voting from overseas), so the photo doesn’t show my ballot or who I voted for. There seems to have been something on the lens, though, that obscured part of the ballot. Sorry about that.

Someone who is overseas only temporarily—like, for example, on a one-year work contract—would probably cast an ordinary absentee ballot, depending on their state’s election laws. But the FPCA programme is there for them, too, should they need it.

Sometimes people ask me why I’d bother, since I don’t live there anymore. Occasionally there’s an air of disapproval in the question, as if I shouldn’t, but there are damn good reasons for voting. First, it’s every American citizen’s right to vote, paid for in bloody wars and the struggle of ordinary people to make America “a more perfect union”. Failing to vote would dishonour everyone who fought in whatever capacity to make America better.

There’s also a practical reason. The USA is one of only two countries (the other is Eritrea) that tax citizens based on nationality rather than residence. What that means is that US citizens living overseas may, under some circumstances, be required to pay taxes to the federal government AND whatever country they’re living in. That’s double taxation on the same income, in other words. Most countries only tax the people living and working within their country, not their citizens living overseas.

A foundational principle of the USA is that there must never be taxation without representation. US citizens living overseas—subject to US taxation—have every right to vote on the people who will decide their tax burden and the onerous reporting rules. That’s not just sensible and fair, it’s common sense and a fundamental requirement of a democracy.

So, I did my part. Again. That also means that if Republicans win this week, it’s Not My Fault. I did my duty to help restore democracy and checks and balances to the USA. Hopefully, enough others will have done the same, too.

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