Recently, U.S. Vote Foundation President and CEO Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat spoke with NPR's "All Things Considered" about the upcoming midterm elections. Susan also took the time on this Election Day Eve to share with us her thoughts on the midterms, civics education, the importance of the American expat community, and more.
This midterm election is featuring close races for governor, for House seats, and, in particular, for Senate seats. The Senate seats, with their six-year terms, are highly valuable legislative positions. Six to eight of these – Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana – are tied or within the statistical margin of error. It seems as if predications are swinging from one side to the other almost daily.
It is important to note that ALL overseas voters can vote in federal level elections for Congress.
These races will decide the composition of the Senate and whether or not full control of Congress is in the hands of one party. This will decide how much happens or does not happen in the next two years within the U.S. If the Senate is not functioning, then Congress is not functioning and that means the legislative branch is hobbled, and citizens are disadvantaged.
In looking at these knife-edge margins, it is clear that every individual vote is vitally important. Furthermore, midterm turnout typically is low in the U.S., and low with regard to numbers of ballots cast by citizens overseas. The result is that one vote – your vote – becomes significantly more powerful in determining the outcome of not just one race, but the composition of our government, and its resulting effectiveness.
Three states with crucial, close, or tied Senate races that have significant overseas voter populations – which could potentially swing the outcome if it is close – are Colorado, Georgia, and North Carolina. Tomorrow, that list might be longer or shorter. When considering governor's races, it would be Florida – a race that is deadlocked where more than 85 thousand overseas and military ballots were counted in 2012. Colorado and Illinois also have that combination of a close gubernatorial race coupled with significant anticipated overseas voter participation.
Turnout on both sides is going to be the deciding factor.
Overseas voting has transformed over the last decade from an entirely manual to a largely automated, online assisted process. Unless you are extremely remote, and the majority of overseas citizen voters are not, there is really no reason you cannot get your ballot and vote from overseas quite easily now. At usvotefoundation.org, voters have a guided online process to request their overseas absentee ballots and send them to the exact address out of approximately 7,825 potential local election office addresses. Every state must be able to return a ballot to you online or by post (per your choice), and the ballots are available a full six weeks prior to the election – allowing plenty of time to return them. There is also an online emergency ballot – also available on usvotefoundation.org and overseasvotefoundation.org – the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, which you can use if your ballot does not arrive in time.
Voting from overseas has become easier as it has benefited from reforms and from developments in technology. Overseas Vote Foundation was first to introduce these modernized online concepts for overseas voters, and they have caught on broadly and been adopted by states and the federal government.
If the process is not keeping overseas voters from voting, then what is?
In Susan's view, one of the factors, which is integral to this problem of low turnout is the fact that civic education is no longer part of our fundamental curriculum. It is hard to fathom, as patriotic as we are as a nation, that we do not teach our children about how their government is structured and run. If people do not know how their government operates, which offices have what kind of power and who makes decisions for them, they also do not know about their right to vote overseas, then how can we expect them to care about voting, or to vote in a responsible manner?
General elections on presidential years still bring voters to the polls. Yet people do not realize that the federal midterm election is also a general election and is vitally important to how our government functions and how productive it is under any one president.
Furthermore, one thing we see consistently, as overseas voters, is that our representatives in Congress do not campaign or communicate to us. They rarely ever address us as a constituency. They venture abroad to raise money now and then, but it is exceptional if they embark on other types of overseas trips. They rarely, if ever, venture outside of the U.S. with the purpose of speaking with the general U.S. citizen overseas audience. We do feel that they do not fully understand our issues as Americans overseas or value us as unofficial ambassadors of the country we originate from – after all we are sitting at boardroom tables, lecturing in classrooms, directing business decisions, and communicating to the worldwide audience on a daily basis.
Any members of Congress willing to visit overseas and speak to the overseas citizen voter constituency, beyond fund-raising trips, would make a significant difference and would be welcome. As of yet, this has not happened, and this is a major factor in turnout from voters overseas. If this viewpoint toward American voters overseas were to change, then voter motivation would be dramatically improved.