This article will be published in of Gwangju News under the title “Why U.S. citizens in Korean should vote in the midterm elections.” But this applies equally to all U.S. citizens abroad. You need to vote!
You traveled thousands of miles away from home to “the land of the morning calm.” You’ve been here a year (or five), and every time you catch a glimpse of the latest news from back home, you’re reminded of what you don’t miss about life in America. The adversarial ugliness, the endless partisanship, the rapid degradation of civility and the reality-show style drama that seems to have taken over. If all of this makes you more secure in your decision to be in Korea and thus be away from it all, you’re not alone.
But here’s the thing: just because you have the privilege and opportunity to be away from it all doesn’t mean that other people do. 40% of Americans don’t even have a passport. I grant you, many of these people simply lack interest in the outside world. There are many, however, who would love to be able to experience a year abroad, but it’s out of reach for them. Maybe they couldn’t afford to go to college or take a TEFL course. Maybe a family member is sick and the family lacks adequate insurance to pay the medical bills, so they need to be around to provide financial support.
Actually, you might not be as immune as you think you are to the effects of what happens in Washington. Do you have student loans? Will you be alive during the next 50 years to experience the accelerating effects of climate change? Do you want to continue to be able to visit other countries visa-free or with an easy visa process? Do you ever want to have the option of returning to an America where you can earn a decent living with your expensive sociology degree? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to vote.
Now you’re thinking: “Yeah, ok. But U.S. expats are such a small minority of the electorate. Why am I going to go to the trouble of getting and mailing an absentee ballot?” Actually, the U.S. expatriate community is quite large and could have a huge influence on the results of the election. The U.S. State Department estimates that there are currently 9 million American citizens living abroad. This is comparable to the population of New Jersey, the 11th most populous state in the union. This means that the U.S. expat community is larger than that of 39 of the 50 states. That is quite significant, and has particular potential to make waves in crucial swing states.
Particularly in today’s political climate of increasing nativism and turning inward, the voices of U.S. citizens who live abroad need to be heard in the political process. We know through first-hand experience what it is like to be immigrants or non-native residents of another country. Further, we have a unique understanding of how various programs operate in other countries, such as universal healthcare, employee pensions, and public education.
The vast majority of U.S. expats living in Korea are part of the millennial generation. While millennials are now the largest voting-age demographic in America, they still have the worst voter turnout of any generation. According to Pew Research, only 49% of millennials voted in the 2016 election, while 63% of Generation X, 69% of Baby Boomers, and 70% of the Silent/Greatest Generations voted. This means that our parents and grandparents are making decisions about our future. If we want to see change take place on issues of importance to our generation, we need to make our voices heard in the political process. Let’s not add to the problem of low millennial voter turnout; let’s be part of the solution.
“OK, FINE! I guess I can’t argue with you anymore. I’ll vote. Do these old bureaucrats at least make it possible to vote online?” The answer is a qualified yes. Some states have, in fact, joined the 21st Century and make it possible to send in your absentee ballot via email. Other states still require you to send it in via snail mail, but you can download and print a PDF of the ballot online. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate will send your ballot back to the U.S. for free if you send it in at least 3 weeks before the election. If you are more of a last minute person, don’t sweat it. Most states allow you to apply for your absentee ballot just 7-10 days before Election Day, and a few even allow you to apply the day before the election. The whole process can usually be done online, and your vote will be counted as long as your ballot is received by Election Day.
For more information about voting in the U.S. midterm election, please visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program at fvap.gov. They streamline the process and make it easy and painless.