I’ve voted! In October I mailed my absentee ballot to Florida, where I am a registered voter. This week I received an email from my local county election office acknowledging its receipt and noting it was being counted. As one of an estimated six million Americans abroad, I value the right to participate in this important election. The 2012 election (along with the leadership selection in China) will set the path for the world. Americans abroad have a responsibility to share their experiences and bring our views into shaping America’s future. In this close election, our vote counts more than ever.
The last few years have seen significant changes in the voting process for absentee ballots. Gone are the days when the ballot arrived with inadequate time for it to be returned. The passing of the MOVE (Military and Overseas Voter Empower Act) in 2009 has assured that voters were mailed their ballots 45 days in advance and that counties adopt electronic delivery systems where possible and allow for express delivery of absentee ballots. While to date only 15 states have fully implemented the legislation, changes in a number of states have allowed for faxes and emails to count in the polls. These improvements have made the process easier for those abroad. The hurdles to participation are coming down.
There also has been more activism on the part of overseas voters. Groups such as Republican and Democrats Abroad have increased in number. And voters abroad are voting in high numbers. According to Roger Hedgecock of UT San Diego, an estimated 90% of civilian voters abroad return their ballot (military personnel overseas respond less at 75%), although it is not clear how many abroad don’t opt to request ballots at all. More and more of those overseas, however, are vested in the outcome, taking a moment to cast a ballot not just for America’s direction but that of the world.
Knowing the election is so critical, I carefully considered my vote. To those who follow my writing, it will not come as a surprise that I voted for Obama. Importantly, this was a positive vote for him, rather than a negative vote for the Romney alternative. Despite not meeting many of my expectations in the areas of human rights protection and economic recovery, in my view Obama is the much better choice. He knows more about the world. His foreign policy has had at its core engagement and respect for other countries and cultures. His overall policy approach aims for inclusion, even if it has not always achieved that objective. He has made unpopular decisions, such as health care or the DREAM act that gave children of immigrants citizenship, that show that the needs and humanity of ordinary people come first and stood by them. He stands as an example of the promise of a society embracing difference and minority representation. On multiple fronts, he continues to resonate hope, and we should never forget that hope is a fuel that keeps the human spirit alive.