Thursday, August 12, 2010

VOTE! (If I can, you sure can too!)

Rocking the vote from Moldova!

The Colorado Primaries were Tuesday, and after weeks of wrangling, I just barely managed to get my ballot sent in the nick of time.  Voting from overseas is no small feat – I had to be extra attentive to make sure the proper paperwork was filed before leaving the States, and there was a lot of back and forth to ensure that my ballot arrived in time.  Amongst my Peace Corps colleagues, I’m about as on the ball as it comes with voting from abroad, and still, it was in just under the wire.

For other overseas voters who may be reading this, I urge you to visit the Overseas Vote Foundation’s website for comprehensive state-specific information, including election dates (general and primaries) and filing requirements.

At this point, my generation’s poor voting record is borderline cliché, but what is less well known are that the barriers to voting abroad make this another demographic with consistently low turnout.  The irony of this story is that many of us overseas are engaged directly in some form of service to our country: Foreign Service Officers, military service members, and of course, Peace Corps Volunteers (to name just a few).

As a volunteer, voting is more than just a civic responsibility: I take an oath to promote the three goals of the Peace Corps.  The second of these goals is to “Promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.”  For me, it’s hard to feel like I’m living up fully to the spirit of that goal without participating in what is arguably the most revered American political institution.  At my nation’s inception, voting (even if narrowly conceived at the time) went to the core of what set us apart.  Since then, it has occupied a central thread of our national narrative.  The right to cast a ballot has been bound up in America’s greatest national struggles and discourses: class struggle, the Civil War, feminism and women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam War.  (And today, perhaps the role of concentrated economic interests’ influence…)

My curriculum for Health Education/Life Skills this coming year includes civic education.  How am I to dig into this topic with my students if voting is treated like something one checks at the airport check-in counter, valued less than the luggage one would never fail to pick up on the other end of a flight?  Moreover, the issue takes immediate relevance in Moldova, where there's been an intense discussion in recent years between the leading parties, focused at least topically on the electoral method of choosing the country's president.

Fellow volunteers looked on with a bemused curiosity that failed to hide a decent amount of skeptical cynicism.  That’s okay though – I have another month or to get them to register for the general election this fall.  In the meantime, should my ballot fail to be counted, at least it is on account of a system ill-suited to handle the international voter, and not a personal disenfranchisement.

But rather than look at all the barriers, I prefer to look at all the help I received.  Big shout outs go to:
  • The Peace Corps, which was extremely helpful in getting the required paperwork printed and scanned.
  • The Denver Elections Office, which has an incredible staffer handling overseas voting, and
  • The Overseas Vote Foundation, which is the excellent organization which first got me involved in overseas get out the vote operations back in 2008 when I was living in Budapest.

With so much conspiring to help the American abroad to vote, any excuse is really just that: an excuse.

Post Script for the Expatriate:
If you presently reside abroad, and are interested in voting issues, the Overseas Vote Foundation is in constant need of volunteers for its non-partisan get out the vote operation.  Visit their website, follow the org on Facebook, and help spread the word wherever you are based.  OVF also operates special branches:

The Democratic and Republican parties both offer special sites geared toward members living overseas as well (Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad).


Nickie said...

Great post! I'm currently a Peace Corps Invitee heading to Ukraine in September. I was put off by how the person I spoke to at my county office of registrars had no idea about overseas voting and wasn't interested in helping me to find information about it. The Overseas Vote Foundation website doesn't seem to be loading right now, but I look forward to checking it out, thanks for the resources!

In brief... said...

Hey Nicki -

You might try the Youth Vote Overseas site; same general services, just geared toward youth.

The big thing to make sure you get done before you leave is file an FPCA (Federal Post Card Application), b/c you probably won't have time during PST to get any paperwork done.

I bet you're excited to begin your service; enjoy your last month Stateside!