Do home country national elections matter to emigrants/expatriates who live outside their countries of citizenship?
Some countries allow their diasporas to vote in national and even local elections. The French abroad, for example, can vote in French elections from their host countries, and Article 24 of the 1958 Constitution establishes the right of the French living outside of France to have direct representatives in the French Senate.
Having the franchise, however, does not guarantee that any national community abroad will exercise it. Mexicans abroad have had the right to vote in Mexico since 2005 and there are millions of Mexican citizens all over the world. But as of 2012 there were only 61,000 absentee ballots requested from over 100 countries.
So it's not enough to simply have the franchise in the home country, migrants/expatriates must also have the means to exercise that right and, I argue, a good reason to do so. Motivation really matters here. If there are no compelling issues that stir interest in a community abroad then they won't bother to register or send in their ballots.
With that in mind, let's look at the US presidential elections. In the latter part of the 20th century Americans abroad gained the right to vote with the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act of 1975 and The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) passed in 1986. Since that time the two major political parties in the US have worked to encourage voter participation in the US communities living outside the United States.
But as Dr. Claire Smith showed in her 2010 article for the Overseas Vote Foundation, only 374,955 civilians requested ballots from abroad for the 2008 elections and only 59.2% of those ballots were actually submitted. Problems with the voting process? Absolutely. And yet the number of overseas citizens who tried to vote was not that high to begin with given that there are, according to the US State Department, around 7 million US citizens living abroad.
Why might that change in 2016? I would argue that Americans abroad do have a keen interest in this election - a personal dog in this fight that might encourage Americans abroad to vote in higher number than in the past.
The issues are the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act and citizenship-based taxation - a deadly combination that is wreaking havoc in American communities all over the world. FATCA was passed in 2010 and requires banks in the host countries to report the accounts of US citizens and US Persons to the US government which has led banks in the host countries to close the personal accounts (checking, savings and retirement) of many Americans abroad, and declare all Americans persona non grata at their banks.
Citizenship-based taxation, US law that says that the incomes of US citizens/US Persons earned outside the United States are taxable by the United States government, has been around for many years but was not enforced until very recently (about 2008).
Americans abroad are not only furiously angry and deeply bitter about what they see as the hostile acts of their home country government, but some feel they have no choice but to renounce their US citizenship. That is the reason that renunciations of US citizenship have soared in the past few years.
For many, if not most, Americans abroad these are THE issues that trump (no pun intended) everything else. I call it the American Diaspora Tax War because I have never seen so much resentment and, strangely enough, solidarity on the part of Americans abroad. This situation has united angry Americans from many different countries around the world against the anti-emigrant policies of the US government.
This is the prism through which I see the upcoming US presidential elections and I don't think I'm alone here. The question, however, is whether or not the candidates will speak to those issues. To motivate Americans abroad to vote I think it is not enough for these issues to be mentioned as part of an overall party platform; they need to be addressed by the candidates directly.
So far I am not seeing that. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have a lot to say about domestic issues - gun control, the national debt, immigration - but after parsing the Issues sections of their websites, I don't see anything that speaks even indirectly to FATCA and citizenship-based taxation, their impact on Americans abroad, and what they plan to do about them.
The Democrats do at least nod in our direction and acknowledge our existence. Clinton has a special link for Americans abroad who want to contribute to her campaign. Sanders talks about tax reform (the super wealthy, corporations, and the use of tax havens) but seems oblivious to the existence of middle-class Americans living abroad who might need a little tax justice, too. (And I found that to be a real pity because I kind of like Sanders.)
Am I missing something here? You tell me. I invite the advocates of these candidates to come forward and direct me to whatever information is available that clarifies their position on what is happening to Americans abroad right now.
Do I and other Americans abroad care about the issues and the upcoming elections? I can't speak for anyone but myself but my answer is: Of course I do. I have family in the US and things like gun control, healthcare, US immigration and the national debt impact the people I love.
That said, the only issues that have a direct impact on me are: foreign policy (because when that goes badly, Americans abroad are on the front lines) and US government policies toward its diaspora - the 7 million or so Americans living outside the United States.
If I believe that my issues are being ignored, or that candidates might actually make things worse for me and my compatriots abroad, not only will I not vote for those candidates, I probably won't vote at all.
Because the right to vote means nothing if you feel that the candidates aren't listening and that you don't have a voice deemed worthy of being heard.