Overseas Voters: Right to Vote or Right to Butt Out?

**Please return next week for your regularly scheduled installment of Travel Tip Tuesday.**

Today is election day and Americans are hopefully heading to the polls in unprecedented droves to cast their votes for America’s Next Top President.

And good for them, I say.

With the drama and scandal of recent years, it would be easy to understand why some Americans might lose faith in the system. They might not think their voice will be heard. They may not think their vote will count.

But what about us Americans who live overseas?

Where do we fit in?

In a recent conversation with a group of highly opinionated Italian citizens, they said they don’t think Italians living abroad should be able to affect the outcome of an Italian election.

Normally not one to stir up controversy or get into an in depth political debate, over what I must say was the best pizza I’ve ever had in Italy, I had to join in this discussion.

“You don’t think people who live abroad should be able to vote?” I asked (mostly to verify I had understand his increasingly rapid Italian over the roar of the crowd watching Roma get defeated.)

“No.” He told me. “They don’t live in Italy. They don’t know what it is like for us who live here and they elect people like (some obviously discriminatory remark regarding Silvio Berlu that I didn’t quite grasp) into office”

Working hard to control the flush of color I felt rushing to my cheeks, I asked, “So, you don’t think I should be able to vote in the American elections?”

I caught him off guard, I noticed that, but he was quick to reply with, “No, you shouldn’t. You don’t live in America. It doesn’t matter to you what happens in America.”

After collecting my dropped jaw from the mass of mozzarella bufala in which it had landed, I replied with an incredulous, “You don’t think I care what happens in America? I am American! I love America. Of course, I care!”

He tried to interrupt me, but my cool, collected frame of mind had flown out the window.

“My family is in America. Americans are judged throughout the world by the actions of our president. How could you think I don’t care?”

“It may be important for your family and they should vote. But you shouldn’t.” Stubborn thing, this guy …

His cousin who was sitting beside him began nodding her head in agreement.

“Maria!” I said. “If you move to France tomorrow you won’t care what happens in Italy?”

I saw the transition of opinion float across her face.

“Of course, I’d care. You are right.”

But he had me thinking.

Is it fair for those of us who choose to live in another country to directly affect the lives of those we leave behind? Is it right, for example, for us to vote against a president who wants to offer health care to the poorest citizens when we have the right to public health programs? Should we be able to vote for a man who wants to leave American troops in Iraq when our adopted countries have made their decisions months or years ago?

I imagine many expats will have the same initial knee-jerk reaction as I did, but unfortunately for me, I have the often undesired and uncanny ability to see both sides of an argument.

So, what do you think and more importantly … why?

16 Responses
  1. I’m an American citizen and a French citizen therefore I vote in both countries. There are plenty of people who live full time in their home county and vote without doing research or vote for someone because they like their haircut. Until those people are “banned” from voting, of course citizens abroad should vote. End of story.
    Great point. I’ll remember that next I’m bombarded. 🙂

  2. One word: taxes. Even though I live in Italy, I pay ’em (out the wazoo as a self-employed person) in America, and I get *nothing* from them except the vague promise that maybe, if the pols don’t screw things up too badly in the next 35 years, I just might get a pension. You better believe I have a right to say what *else* I want my tax money to go to for my fellow American citizens, including my family.

    And besides, who says we all won’t move back to America tomorrow? Do we get to go back and get our vote added in?

    With citizenship comes the right to vote. Punto e basta.

    And if those Italians want to b*tch about who elected Berlu, all they have to do is look around–it was the southern Italians like always.
    Yes, I actually told him the “we pay taxes” part, as well and his response was something along the lines of “people always talk about paying their taxes…” You really can’t argue with people who think they know more about your country than you do, but … it brought up an interesting post idea! 🙂

  3. I forgot to add taxes!!! Great point Michelle. I still pay them in the U.S. Of course I vote.
    How could you forget the taxes?? 😉
    As Michelle said, we pay heavy taxes for our freelancing. It hurts thinking about it!

  4. Of course we should be able to vote from overseas. We’re still Americans and, with communication the way it is today, we are certainly aware of the situation there, even if we are here. Not to mention the tax thing, as Michelle pointed out. As for who elected Berlusconi…. don’t get me started. I can’t believe the number of people who have been taken in by him. Those people are here in Italy and can see what he does on a daily basis, but they still voted for him. Incredible. But then, Bush was voted in twice.
    It really is amazing to me that there are people who still this Bush is a good man, and apparently people in Italy think the same for Berlu. I know people here who voted for him because they felt like he was responsible for their “good job” they have that pays them €900 a month. Seriously!

  5. I refuse to not vote and leave America’s future to people who don’t bathe and wear their pajamas to Walmart.
    See Judith? You always make me laugh. I’m curious if people who don’t bathe and wear their PJs to Walmart even vote? Boh!

  6. Great topic!

    I think your friend needs to realize how few overseas Italian voters actually vote. Argentina has the largest population of Italian citizens outside of Italy and almost none of them vote. (They are too concerned with Argentina’s problems which are a lot worse than Italy’s). So no, people abroad are not responsible for electing Berlu. People in Italy are.

    Second, I don’t think your friend realizes what an impact the United States has on the world. We are a very powerful nation. Everything that goes on with us effects the entire world. Everything.
    Does your friend not see how the whole world is watching us today? Everybody in the world is concerned about our next president. Everybody I meet here (argentineans) asks me “Tina, you’re voting right? Please say you’re voting!” It has nothing to do with whether we live there or not, it has to do with the fact that we owe it to the world to cast our vote. 🙂 Just my opinion.
    I would be surprised if there were enough overseas Italian voters to make a difference but I didn’t know the stats and couldn’t argue them with him. I agree about the international impact the US president has. I think many Americans living abroad are ready for a president we can be proud of … imagine how bad it sucks for me being from Texas like you know who… I know several Italian news stations are running election coverage all day today – and most of the day yesterday.

  7. Hah, I love his response of “people always talk about paying taxes.” The difference is that in America people don’t just *talk* about paying taxes, people *PAY* taxes. Ouch. OK, now I’ll leave the Italians alone for a while 😉
    He he… no comment!

  8. Oh! P.S. The voters in Argentina who DO vote, certainly aren’t voting for Berlusconi because he’s just like Menem to them (google Menem). 🙂 It was amazing, by the way, the campaigning that went on down here during the Italian elections. Italy even has a senator based here.
    Wow. He is like Berlu’s long lost twin, isn’t he? They even resemble to me.

  9. hehe, and if you look at his entry on Wikipedia, somewhere in there he is called a “maverick”. How fitting with the times! LOL
    Oh, goodness. That is scary! lol

  10. Well, of course I think you should be able to vote where ever you are a citizen.

    Funny-this guy sounds like my brother. He thinks that since I want to live in Italy it means I HATE the U.S. and that I should move, since that is the case.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Get out and vote today!!!
    It is like having more than one child … you can love them both equally! That “get out and vote today” must be for other readers. My ballot is long gone, girlfriend!

  11. Vanessa

    Of course you should be able to vote! Just because you aren’t living in that country at the moment doesn’t mean you aren’t concerned with what is going on. I am about to online vote in the next few days (NZ election is on now too!) and i am having a hard time deciding who to vote for on account of not having to live daily with the decisions of the ruling party. However for NZ, 1/5 of the citizens live abroad so overseas votes DO make a big difference. The issues that affect us may be the same or different to those at home but the outcome in our votes can also influence decisions for us too (esp when is the right time to move back home!!).

    I recently got my italian citizenship and just in time to vote here. I knew next to nothing about who stood for what although i did want Berlusconi out so voted against him. I know way more about election issues in my home country. BTW most people here i know in Sicily voted for Berlusconi (WHY WHY WHY!!!???) and all they had to say was ‘better the devil you know’…. some things will never change but at least a vote gives you a chance!
    I can so hear “better the devil you know … .” Yikes. How lucky you can vote online. That would have been nice!

  12. brave, brave girl you are cherrye!! i don’t live abroad (yet) but i’m with several other commenters on this one…if the guvmint gets my hard earned $$$$$, they also get my vote!! (whether they like it or not!) (judith speaks the truth…ugh!)

    & michelle…don’t count on ever seeing a return of your fica input 🙁 those of us born after ’60 are sunk.
    I don’t know if “brave” is the right word, QdB. I often question that.

  13. What happens in America does NOT stay in America. If we, as Americans, have the right to vote then we have the right to vote! It doesn’t matter where we live. The actions of the American president reach us all.

    That they do, Cynthia!

  14. joanna

    half the population of the planet wishes they could vote in this election. i couldn’t possibly let them down.
    You are so right. I couldn’t believe the press our election was getting / is getting in Italy.

  15. j

    It’s in the Constitution that if you are a citizen you have the right to vote so it’s kind of a moot point. But anyway…OBAMA WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    It is moot because we can’t change the fact, but I was curious if you all thought citizens living abroad should affect the election? I had an email earlier from someone who saw the point my Italian “friend” made, as she was able to vote as an Italian abroad but admitted to not really knowing how the issues affected people in the country. And yes, J. He did win. 🙂

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