Bits and Pieces

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Thousands of Expatriates Choose to Vote

After reading co-blogger Daniel's post over at Iraq Election Diatribes regarding the shortfall in expatriate voter registration, I'd like to make a few comments.

I agree that there are many reasons why 1 in 10 of those eligible to vote have actually registered, not least of which is the fact that there are only 74 registration and voting centres in the 14 countries taking part.

Consider the fact that Democratic voter turnout in the US is typically lower when the weather is bad than when the sun shines. The purported reason for this is that many people who intend to vote blue can't afford their own transport, and have to walk to their polling place.

Now, imagine expatriate Iraqis as a form of "Super-Democrat" voter, an impoverished demographic driven from their homes with little more than their lives. While it would be unfair and unwise to assume that every expatriate Iraqi lives below the poverty line, I think it would be fair to assume that many do. Disagree if you wish, but I think it's a fair statement.

Now, while bad weather can keep a potential US voter from walking to his/her polling place, imagine what that voter would do if he/she had to take a train to their nearest registration center 100 miles away in the capital city of their adopted nation to register, and then repeat the journey the following week in order to vote. I know what I'd do, and 9 out of 10 expatriate Iraqis agree with me.

But that's not what I wanted to say. What I want to say is that I disagree that the number of those to have registered is necessarily low. Consider this:-

It is estimated that about 30 percent of U.S. citizens overseas vote. Overall turnout in the 2000 presidential election was more than 50 percent. According to estimates provided by the Foreign Voter Assistance Program, run by the Department of Defense to facilitate overseas voting, turnout among non-government American civilians abroad in the past four presidential elections has fluctuated between 31 percent and 38 percent of eligible voters. (LA Times)


Some experts estimate the percentage of eligible U.S. expatriates who voted in the 2000 presidential election was as low as 30%, far less than the overall 51.3% turnout among eligible voters overall.(

So, as few as 3 in 10 eligible voters hailing from the seat of democracy bothered to register in 2000, an election that was so hotly contested it invalidated the claim that 'my vote won't count'. What's more, US expatriates are, in the main, affluent and mobile. The majority of civilian expatriates living abroad are either students wealthy enough to pay extortionate foreign citizen tuition fees, or people working abroad in connection with business - meaning that they have good jobs that pay good salaries. Again, I'm basing that on only my own assumptions/prejudices, so feel free to disagree with my logic.

The simple fact is that it isn't easy to register, and it isn't easy to vote. There aren't polling places at every high school. It isn't possible to post in your vote. You have to work, really work, to get your voice heard as an expatriate Iraqi, and the fact that 93,000 of them have made that effort speaks out to me that the spirit of democracy is alive and well in the hearts of those who are about to get their first taste of self-determination. I can only hope that the Iraqi population shows as much resolve come election day.

Cross-posted at Iraq Election Diatribes.
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