A few days ago I cross-posted Why Americans Abroad Should Vote to the Isaac Brock Society website and received some very interesting comments in response. One in particular sparked my interest: OK for voting, he said, but who to vote for - that is the real question.
And it's a darn good one. 2012 is a major U.S. election year . In addition to the presidential race there are quite a few Senate seats up for grabs in 2012. If Americans abroad decide to vote in large numbers it is quite conceivable that they will have an impact on how some of these races shake out.
Now I would not even think of telling anyone how to vote. All I can do is tell you what is important to me and what I look for in a candidate. To that end I thought it would be an interesting exercise to take a few of these races at random and tell you what I see when I look at their websites, platforms and biographies.
As an American abroad what am I looking for in a candidate? First of all I would like to see some life experience that includes studying, traveling or living/working/serving in the military outside the U.S. If the candidate is already in Congress, I want to know if he/she a member of the Americans Abroad Caucus and how he/she voted on FATCA. For that matter, does he/she ever mention issues of direct interest to Americans abroad (taxation, voting rights, citizenship, strong interest in foreign affairs) on his/her official website(s) or even acknowledge the fact that he/she has constituents outside the U.S.? Is that website "expat friendly". In other words, is it easy or hard for a constituent overseas to contact him/her via email or to make a contribution to his/her campaign?
I also include for each state an estimated number of expat voters from this site, the U.S. Elections Project and I used the 2010 "Overseas Eligible" numbers. No idea if this reliable but it was the only information I could find. For those who are interested in how some of the incumbents and candidates (those who are already in Congress) stood on H.R. 2847 (111th): Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (father of FATCA) you can find their voting records here.
Hawaii: Estimated number of eligible expat voters: 20,090. Here is their Factsheet for voting from abroad. What is the situation in 2012? Senator Daniel Akaka (Democrat) is retiring. Democrats appear to be divided between two candidates: Ed Case and Mazie K. Hirono. The Republican candidate is Linda Lingle.
Ed Case: Former U.S. representative from Hawaii. A quick look at his agenda shows no particular interest in issues of direct interest to Americans Abroad but he does have some experience traveling outside the U.S. In his biography he says, "Perhaps the trip that influenced me most was a low-budget six-month backpack through Asia..."
Mazie K. Hirono: A naturalized U.S. citizen (she was born in Japan). Three terms in the House of Representatives. Member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Not a member of the Americans Abroad Caucus. Official website is not "expat friendly" and does not make it easy for non-residents of Hawaii to contact her. I could not find anything on her campaign website mentioning issues of direct interest to Americans abroad. Hirono voted for FATCA.
Linda Lingle: Former governor of Hawaii. No experience abroad noted. Her website does indicate that she is interested in Asia-Pacific economic relationships and in tax reform. Like many others her "Donations" page asks for a U.S. city, state and zip code. It is possible to contact her campaign directly through email or snail mail here.
California: Estimated number of eligible expat voters: 486,207. California's Secretary of State has this very nice, very friendly website for those voting from abroad. The incumbent senator, Diane Feinstein (Democrat), is up for re-election. Her opponent is Elizabeth Emken (Republican).
Dianne Feinstein: Her biography lists no overseas experience but she has a strong interest in foreign affairs. Her website does not reveal any particular attention to civilian Americans abroad. Her "Contact by Email" page requires that an overseas constituent select a U.S. state and give a local zip code. Feinstein voted for FATCA.
Elizabeth Emken: Her biography shows that she studied in the UK at Cambridge University. Looking at the list of issues that is interested in, most of them appear to be local. Her "Donations" page does not allow for a foreign address and the "State" field will only permit her military constituents to indicate that they are out of the country (Armed Forces Europe/Canada/Asia).
Pennsylvania: Estimated number of eligible expat voters: 203,791. For help voting from abroad there is this website for overseas civilian voters. The incumbent for this senate seat is Robert Casey (Democrat) and his opponent is Tom Smith (Republican).
Robert Casey: No overseas experience on his official biography but under his Issues and Priorities he shows a strong interest in foreign affairs and is a frequent traveler abroad: "In July, Senator Casey led a Senate delegation to the Middle East to discuss the ongoing threat posed by Iran and to review developments in the Middle East peace process. Senator Casey traveled to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Egypt where he met with top officials. He met with U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait. In Iraq he also met with Vice President Biden and General Ray Odierno, Commander of U.S. troops." The "Contact" page on his website calls for a state and county but the only overseas voters that are taken into account are military (FPO/APO).
Tom Smith: No experience abroad on his biography and there is no particular attention to the interests of Americans abroad on his Issues page. His "Contributions" page only has a few options for those living outside of the U.S. (American Samoa, Virgin Islands....)
Wisconsin: Estimated number of expat voters: 33,788. The State of Wisconsin has this fine site explaining overseas voting. The incumbent in this senate race, Herbert Kohl (Democrat), is not seeking re-election and the primary is not until August. Tammy Baldwin is the candidate from the Democrat party and I count no fewer than six contenders on the Republican side so I will select two at random: Marc Neumann and Tommy Thompson.
Tammy Baldwin: Her biography reveals no overseas experience and her Issues page is almost 100% devoted to domestic concerns. She says that "fighting for Wisconsin’s middle class is her top priority." Not clear if she would include the interest of middle-class overseas Wisconsin constituents in her fight. In the State field of her "Donations" page an overseas voter can select some areas outside the US: AA, AE, AS (I think this is for overseas military voters) but also GU (Guam?) and PR (Puerto Rico). A bit confusing for a civilian voter from, say, Europe. Baldwin is currently serving in the House of Representatives but does not appear to be a member of the Americans Abroad Caucus. Her "Contact" page is not expat-friendly. In fact it clearly states, "Regrettably, I am unable to reply to any email from constituents outside of the district." Baldwin voted "Yes" on FATCA.
Marc Neumann: No experience overseas on his biography and no particular attention to Americans abroad on his website. He is, however, a supporter of tax reform, "a simpler, fairer, and flatter tax system with fewer loopholes." Not sure if this can be interpreted as something that would help Americans abroad. His "Donations" page requires a State and it's not clear if an overseas donor would be able to complete the form with a foreign address.
Tommy Thompson: No overseas experience on his biography and I found no issues of direct interest to civilian Americans abroad anywhere on his website. He is, however, for tax reform and wants to "simplify taxes for individuals." His "Donations" page requires a State but a voter can select AE, AP and the like if one is (I think) overseas military. Again it is not clear if a civilian voter can complete the form with a foreign address. His "Contact" page does not require an physical address - just a name and email address.
I'll stop there. All the information above was what I was able to glean from on-line sources. It is entirely possible that the above candidates have a more complete (more nuanced) approach to their overseas constituents that they just didn't feel compelled to share. If that is the case, I'd be delighted to hear their reasoning for hiding their light under a bushel. As always, feel free to disagree with (or correct) me if you feel that the candidates above are misrepresented. And finally if you are an American abroad who plans to vote in 2012, I would love to hear your take on the federal elections in your home state. Just add a comment or send me an email.