Expats now make up about 9 million eligible voters for US federal elections. According to our 2020 Expat Opinion Survey, a record-breaking 82% of these citizens plan to vote in the 2020 election.
With what seems like such a contentious election year, the expat vote could be enough to influence elections for the presidency, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. Taxes are once again at the top of the expat voter issue list, but this year, the US government’s handling of coronavirus has joined it.
Your vote counts! However, the Greenback team knows that voting as an expat can seem complicated. We want to clear up how expat votes are counted, how your voice in government can influence elections this year, and how you can register to vote from abroad if you haven’t already.
How Are Expat Votes Counted?
Expats can register to vote in the last US state and county in which they had residence. That means your vote contributes to the total votes for that state, helping determine which candidate receives that state’s electoral votes.
If you were born outside the US and never lived in the US, you might be able to register in the state of your parent’s last residence — although you’ll have to check that state’s laws.
In either case, you do not need to own a residence or property anywhere in the US to vote, thanks to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
With that said, some states will consider you a resident for tax purposes if you register to vote for federal elections there. Make sure you know whether or not you have to file a state tax return as an expat.
Historical Expat Voting Trends
Expats have historically had a much lower voter turnout than domestic voters.
In 2016, the Federal Voting Assistance Program ran a study that found expats had a mere 7% voter turnout. On the other hand, domestic citizens had a 72% turnout.
The FVAP determined many expats didn’t vote because there were obstacles in the expat voting process that made voting from abroad too tricky. Other factors — such as lack of awareness or motivation to vote — dissuaded some expats from voting, but to a much smaller degree.
How Expats Have Impacted Previous Elections
2000 Presidential Election
The 2000 presidential election was one of the closest and most controversial in US history — and expat votes largely influenced its outcome.
The election result hinged on Florida’s votes. Within a week after election day, Bush’s lead in Florida shrunk from about 1,784 to only 300.
But Florida had hundreds of overseas ballots come in past the deadline. Florida election officials rejected these ballots, giving Gore the lead.
However, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida overturned the rejections. As a result, Bush won Florida with a 537-vote lead — giving him the presidency with a narrow 271 electoral vote total.
How Expat Votes Could Impact This Year’s Elections
The ongoing COVID-19 situation and its handling by the government will be a vital issue as the election approaches.
In our 2020 Expat Opinion Survey, we discovered that about 81% of expats disapproved of the government’s coronavirus response.
At the same time, Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, has put his coronavirus response plans at the forefront of his campaign. It looks like Biden could win a substantial amount of the expat vote.
Still, 22% of expats who plan to vote said that neither candidate represented their interests, which could mean more votes for 3rd party candidates.
The presidency isn’t the only hotly-contested political position this year. According to the Washington Post, several senate seats are likely to change party hands this year. Some are almost certain to flip (Alabama, Arizona, and Colorado), while others could go either way.
Senate Races to Watch in 2020:
- Alabama — Democrat-held
- Arizona — Republican-held
- Colorado — Republican-held
- North Carolina — Republican-held
- Maine — Republican-held
- Iowa — Republican-held
- Georgia — Republican-held
- Montana — Republican-held
The House of Representatives
The House of Representatives also has several seats to fill. According to USA Today, the millions of expat voters participating in this election could play a vital role in these seats’ respective outcomes.
Congressional Races to Watch in 2020:
- California 21st district — Democrat-held
- South Carolina 1st district — Democrat-held
- New Mexico 2nd district — Democrat-held
- Georgia 6th district — Democrat-held
- Georgia 7th district — Open
- Illinois 13th district — Republican-held
- NY 22nd district — Democrat-held
- 1st District — Dem held
- 2nd District — Open
- 3rd District — Dem held
- 4th District — Repub held
How Can Expats Register to Vote?
While many expats expect a complicated process, voting from abroad is simple—so long as you plan ahead. As mentioned earlier, you’ll have to register in the state where you (or your parents, if applicable) last held residence.
Then, you’ll fill out and mail a Federal Post Card Application from the FVAP. Your ballot will then be mailed to you for you to fill out and mail in.
If you don’t think your ballot will arrive in time, don’t worry. The FVAP also offers backup ballots that you can print, fill out, and send in.
I’m a Democrat/Republican Expat. Can I Participate in My Party’s Political Activities?
Both major parties have affiliated organizations for American expats in dozens of countries:
Visit your party’s expat organization’s website to see if your country of residence has a chapter.
Expat Votes Matter
If you or an expat you know is looking for resources to simplify life abroad, we can help. Greenback makes life better for expats by providing hassle-free tax prep to Americans living overseas. We also partner with a variety of companies and organizations that serve expats. If you’d like more information on the services we offer and how we help promote the interests of Americans abroad, please get in touch with us.