By Robert Bradley
For U.S. citizens living abroad, voting in elections back home can be a challenge. Although each U.S. state is mandated by law to provide a process for all citizens to participate in elections, including those living outside the country, some have created bureaucratic hurdles that many expat simply cannot jump over without assistance.
Some states are very accommodating, allowing for voting electronically, while others require a “wet” signature — with pen and ink. Several states allow voting by FAX, while others require that paperwork be submitted to the respective state. To further complicate matters, U.S. consulates are no longer able to transfer hard copy ballots in a diplomatic pouch. Confidentiality and security regulations also play a defining role in the Byzantine process of qualifying your vote to be counted.
Despite the obstacles, there is help for expats who want help navigating the rules.
Democrats Abroad (DA), is an official arm of the Democratic Party, representing nearly nine million U.S. citizens living abroad, its representation of foreign voters recognized by the U.S. government.
The Cuenca branch of DA boasts a membership of over 150 while Ecuador-wide, membership is about 1,000. Affiliated with Vote From Abroad.org (VA), DA is responsible to assist the nearly nine million U.S. citizens living around the world to vote, regardless of political affiliation.
Despite the affiliation with the Democratic Party, DA regularly assists Republicans and Independents to work their way through the bureaucratic process of having their voices heard back home, their opinion validated through the process of voting. In fact, 20 percent of the expats in Cotacachi who registered to vote last week with the help of DA registered as Republicans.
A voter recruiting drive is now underway throughout the country. DA participates in a monthly telecom meeting for “the Americas.” In Cuenca, the majority of members are retired whereas in Quito, a majority are working professionals.
Of particular interest to DA, besides registration of voters, is representing issues of interest to citizens living abroad, such as taxation and the inability to access Medicare worldwide. Lobbying efforts in these two areas are DA’s legislative goals.
A yearly worldwide convention and regular web-based meetings maintain up-to-date information on matters of concern of the U.S. citizens living out of the country.
“Our purpose is to meet people where their values are,” says Jo Ellen Kuney, Director, Democrats Abroad in Ecuador. “We stand hand-in-hand with VA in their effort to guarantee that being overseas does not mean that you have given up your voice.”
Ellie Wallis, Treasurer/International Help Desk Supervisor nother key part of the DA’s work in Ecuador. She has been recognized for making the fifth most phone calls to voters worldwide in 2016 — such is her determination that each voter who needs assistance will be assisted.
She said, “We are not illegal. We are citizens of the world, regardless of positions, and our voices matter. I did not give up my voice to influence the most powerful country in the world simply because I choose to live elsewhere than in my hometown.”