Voting Rights After Moving Abroad
Even when you have taken on a new home, a new country, a new system - many expats still feel the responsibility to participate in the politics of the country they left. But this can be more complicated than it seems. Voting rights as an expat are not certain, and complicated and ever-changing laws concerning expat status make the situation more difficult.
For example, any British expatriate who has lived overseas exceeding fifteen years is no longer permitted to vote in any major elections. This may change as cabinet ministers are contemplating a change of either an extension or a complete removal of the time limit.
The UK is actually unusual among European countries. Many other countries allow for expats to vote - no matter their geographic location - for life. There are around 115 countries and territories that have systems in place to allow their emigrants to vote. On the other hand, there are countries that do not allow their emigrants to vote including Ireland, India, Hungary, South Africa, Zimbabwe, El Salvador and Nepal.
Below is a basic guide to voting rights for expats in their home country.
South African Expats
South Africans living and working abroad who are registered voters can vote in the country's general elections, but not the country's nine provincial legislatures. To find out if they qualify for special votes, check the South African Election Site.
South Africans abroad can cast their ballots by special vote at a South African foreign mission. Voters must take their green, bar-coded South African ID book and South African passport to vote. They also must notify the Chief Electoral Officer of their intention to vote by sending a completed VEC 10 form to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) by
fax: +27 (12) 622 5566
mail: Private Bag X112
Centurion, 0046, South Africa
Filipinos are provided the right to vote when overseas by a provision in the 1987 Constitution. They are able to vote for President, Vice President, Senators and Party-list representatives. The Commission on Filipinos Overseas provides information for Filipinos Abroad.
To vote, Filipinos must fill out an application to register as overseas absentee voters. They must also sign an affidavit declaring their intent to resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines no later than three years from approval of their registration and that they have not applied for citizenship in another country.
Overseas voters were initially only allowed to vote in the proportional-representation segment of Diet elections, but changes in 2006 now allow for Japanese abroad to vote in the proportional representation system for House of Representatives and House of Councilors elections.
Voters overseas must register with their nearest embassy to vote. Under the new system, expats will be able to vote for candidates running in the district where they last lived. Japanese citizens who have never lived in Japan will be able to vote for candidates in the area where their domicile origin is registered, according to the legislation
To vote, voters can mail their ballots before the election. They may also vote by attending designated poll stations in certain cities. Complete information can be found at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, in their section on overseas voting.
France has a long tradition of encouraging the participation of expats and even reserve seats in their parliaments for citizens who live abroad. There are 12 senators representing the around 2,000,000 French nationals living outside of France. They are elected by proportional representation by the 155 members of the electoral college of the Assemblée des Français à l'étranger (organization of French people living abroad).
Voters outside of France at the time of an election (presidential elections, referendums, elections and EU legislation) may exercise their right to vote, provided it they are a registered voter in France. There is regardless to the length of the time spent living outside of the country.
To register, voters can:
- Visit town hall
- By mailing application and documents to town hall
- On the internet, on the site http://www.service-public.fr/
French voters abroad may vote in several different ways:
- Electronic voting- via the Internet (subject to a contact email address to consular services).
- By Mail - in a sealed envelope.
- By Proxy - (a person is authorized to act for another; an agent or substitute). The responsible agent must be registered in the same town as the voter abroad. A proxy can be established by the proxies visiting the nearest Consulate of France at least two to three weeks before the elections. They can be authorized for a single ballot, or for one year, upon presentation of proper identification. In cases of French nationals living abroad long-term, a proxy may be established for up to three years.
- Voters may also vote on-site at their nearest embassy or consulate, but only for presidential elections, referenda and elections of representatives to the European Parliament.
Initially, Germans living abroad in a Member State of the Council of Europe were entitled to vote only during the first 10 years from the time that they left the Federal Republic. In 1985, the Federal Electoral Law was amended to extend this privilege indefinitely. Those citizens living abroad in a country outside the Member States of the Council of Europe are entitled to participate in the Federal vote during the first 25 years since their departure.
Germany citizens living outside the country may vote by postal ballots. Expats are responsible for making their own application to register for the voters's list in the community in which they were registered directly before leaving the Federal Republic. A new application must be submitted for each election.
Applications are made to the election office of the municipality where you were last registered. The application must be received no later than 21 days before the election to be considered. Once this is done, the necessary documents are sent to the German citizens foreign residence.
Information on election dates can be found at the Federal Returning Officer.
Further information is provided by the Federal Foreign Office on the website "Suffrage for German Nationals Abroad".
Italian citizenship requests are ever-growing for people with Italian ancestry, even if they have never been to Italy and do not speak Italian. This has led to an interesting issue for Italian elections as they are also eligible to vote in elections from abroad.
Italian citizens residing abroad are entitled to vote by mail for candidates running for the electoral college of a foreign country. They should be registered with the local consulate in the A.I.R.E. (Anagrafe Italiani Residenti Estero). Consular offices forward an envelope containing the electoral certificate, the electoral ballot, a pre-stamped envelope for sending back the ballot to the consulate, the lists of candidates running for the electoral college voters belong to (Europe, South America, North and Central America, Asia-Africa-Oceania, Antartic), a sheet giving instructions to vote, and a copy of the electoral law.
Votes should be returned to the Consulate of reference within ten days of the election date fixed in Italy. If voters residing abroad do not receive the electoral envelope within 14 days of the election date in Italy, they can apply for it at the Consulate. They can also opt to vote for candidates running for electoral colleges in Italy at the polling places whose lists they are enrolled in. In this case, the elettore optante (voter making the option) shall inform by written communication his/her Consulate of reference within ten day of the election date. Italian voters residing in countries having not concluded ad hoc agreements with the Italian government are not entitled to cast their ballots: they must receive a special notice-card.
Spanish who permanently reside abroad and who are enrolled in the Special Census of Absent Residents Abroad (Censo Especial de Residentes Ausentes en el Extranjero - CERA) may vote from abroad.
Registration is possible online at Elecciones Locales. To vote, Spanish living abroad may submit their vote by mail to the Consular Office of Career or Consular Section of the diplomatic mission in which they are enrolled. They may also cast their vote in the ballot box offices or consular sections in which they are enrolled.
Expats from the UK that are living overseas have the right to vote in all UK Parliamentary (general) elections, European Parliamentary elections and referendums in the UK.
UK expats can vote in elections from overseas, but currently only up to 15 years. Expats must first be registered to vote, and than they may register as an overseas voter. Ballots can be sent overseas, or you can choose to vote as a proxy.
Australians living overseas and currently on the Commonwealth electoral roll are eligible to vote in Australian federal elections. State and local Government elections can be different from federal elections so it is necessary to contact the state/territory electoral office you are registered in.
Votes can be cast in federal elections by either voting in person at an overseas polling place (i.e. an Australian Diplomatic Mission) or by applying for a postal vote. Votes cannot be cast electronically.
New Zealand Expats
New Zealanders abroad are eligible to vote if they are a:
- New Zealand citizen and have visited New Zealand within the last three years
- Permanent resident of New Zealand and have visited New Zealand in the last 12 months.
Overseas voters have several options in how to vote.
Download voting papers online and fax or mail their vote (Fax: 64 4 494 2300)
Apply to the Electoral Commission for postal voting papers
vote in person at an overseas post.
North & Central America
Voting rights extend to overseas citizens even though they may no longer own property or have other ties to their last state of residence, and even if their intent to return to that state may be uncertain. American expats never lose their right to vote.
Voting eligibility and residency requirements are determined by the various U.S. states. The legal state of residence for voting purposes is the state where you last resided immediately prior to departure from the United States. For those who have never resided in the United States, sixteen states allow certain U.S. citizens to register where a parent or spouse would be eligible to vote.
Applicable voters can request an absentee ballot be sent to them. To register and request an absentee ballet, go to www.overseasvotefoundation.org.
Any elector who cannot or does not wish to vote at a polling station during an election or referendum may vote using a special ballot. With a special ballot, an elector can vote by mail or in person at the office of any returning officer. If the elector is away from his or her electoral district, inside or outside Canada, he or she can also register to vote with Elections Canada.
There are several qualifications for expats to vote in Canadian elections:
- Must have lived in Canada within the last 5 years
- Or be an employee of the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Embassy, or other governmental agencies
- A general intention to resume residency in Canada in the future
To determine if you qualify, go to Elections Canada Voting Rules.
Mexican citizen's abroad maintain the right to vote in federal Mexican elections. There are different regulations between states so consult with the state you are registered in for requirements and restrictions.
To be eligible for vote by absentee ballot, they must have a voting credential issued by Mexico's Institute of Federal Elections (Instituto Federal Electoral - IFE). All persons with Mexican nationality, by birth or by naturalization, who are 18 years of age or older, and have an honest way of living, have the right to a voting credential.
You can register to vote on the Institute of Federal Elections site.
There is an obligation for Brazilians to vote when in Brazil, and that has recently extended to the option for Brazilians abroad to vote. Brazilians that wish to vote from abroad must be registered with the consular authorities and can only vote in presidential elections.
To vote from abroad, Brazilian citizens should be registered with the Consulate that has jurisdiction over the place of his/her residence. They should provide their ID card and a proof of residence. However, such registration may only be made until 150 days before the first round presidential election, which usually takes place on the first Sunday of October. Electoral registration procedures with consular authorities may only occur in electoral years prior to the 150-day period. Rules and instructions concerning such procedures are issued by the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs only in electoral years and may vary.
Do you have insight on the voting process from abroad? Did you vote in your home country's last election? Are you from a nation not discussed here?
Share your experience in the comments or in the forum.
Also be sure to check out our upcoming article on "Voting Rights as an Expat in Your Adopted Country".