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Photo by Richard Owens
Rebecca Glazer, vice chair of Democrats Abroad, Spain
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Photo by Richard Owens
Victor Horcasitas, president of The American Society of Barcelona
With the race for the White House hanging in the balance, US citizens in Barcelona are considering the issues that affect them.
On a windy, late June afternoon, a group of Americans banded together at the top of Passeig de Gràcia, working to secure a large American flag across the top of a white tent. They were members of Vote from Abroad, a campaign by Democrats Abroad (DA) to register Americans living overseas to vote in the upcoming US elections, which will be held on November 6th. They had ridden in on a tour bus as part of a 26-city European road trip. As they strapped down the flag, mounted tables set with flyers and computers, curious passersby looked on. Behind them, a makeshift hut with a sign reading Petards was quietly offering fireworks to celebrate the local festivities of Sant Joan.
Unlike in some countries, voter registration for Americans is not automatic, and each election year citizens living abroad must re-register in order to go to the ballots and cast a vote. To complicate matters, each state has their own particular forms and instructions about completing them. Hence the Vote from Abroad campaign, through which Democrats Abroad offers Americans of any political persuasion the opportunity to register through its website and provides them with the information they need on their right to vote in US elections.
“Anybody can register,” explains Rebecca Glazer, vice chair of Democrats Abroad, Spain. “There’s no obligation to be a member of Democrats Abroad, [although] you have the option of joining DA at the end. People can register how they want to register. The nice thing is we’ve invested some money to make it more user friendly.” Through the VoteFromAbroad.org website, voters immediately receive a voter registration form and an absentee ballot request, known as the FPCA, that includes the address where they need to send their request.
Although Democrats Abroad is the official overseas branch of the US Democratic Party, its website is available to serve American citizens overseas regardless of their political affiliation. “Our goal is to get as many people to vote in an election. How they vote is not my concern. I want them to vote,” says Rebecca.
And how will Americans vote in the November elections? Victor Horcasitas, the president of The American Society of Barcelona, and who defines himself as a moderate Republican, explains the difference between voters living abroad and voters stateside: “I think there is going to be a stronger commitment to party lines in the US than there is here. Because a lot of the decisions that affect Americans in their daily lives in the United States are not as important, are not as germane to them here.”
One issue that seems to unite both Democrats and Republicans living overseas is how they are affected by new tax regulations, particularly as they impact on money reported to the United States government from foreign earnings. A law created last year will require Americans living overseas to fill out additional tax forms. Democrats Abroad is trying to lobby to simplify the new regulations.
“If you don’t fill out the forms, you can be penalised by the IRS [US government tax agency]. We’re not tax evaders living abroad, we just happen to be living abroad,” says Rebecca Glazer. Another issue has been the implication of the health care initiative for US residents overseas. “We as a group lobbied to not have to pay into the individual mandate. This is something we did in conjunction with other organisations but partly, thanks to Democrats Abroad, Americans abroad don’t have to pay the penalty because we don’t live in the United States and we cannot benefit from the services of the health care law.”
Another important issue that has an impact on Americans abroad is US relations overseas. “One of the big challenges has been foreign policy,” Victor Horcasitas explains. “The US has a very haphazard way of figuring out what it wants to do, whether it’s [on] Israel, Latin America, Europe or Asia. The one thing that’s true is that we try to do what’s best for the United States but I believe it’s a rather myopic view…People who are long-time expats would probably favour a candidate who seems to have a longer-term view that makes sense to people who are here.”
For Americans living overseas, the damage done by the George W. Bush administration was deeply felt. Like many such Americans, Victor’s impression is that their image overseas and comfort zone are reinforced or compromised by the leadership they choose. “I think we’ve really learned that lesson under the ‘Bush Two’ administration because the anti-American sentiment here I think was a result of Iraq and Afghanistan. And particularly very sensitive here in Spain was Guantanamo Bay.”
Both Victor and Rebecca think the election will be close. The news coming out of the States seems to suggest a tight race, despite Mitt Romney’s controversial choice of Tea-Party champion Paul Ryan as his Vice-Presidential running mate. Victor voted for Obama in the last elections, perhaps reflecting the deep-rooted resentment felt by Americans, even by some Republicans, towards the policies of the Bush administration. However, like some Democrats, Victor expresses disappointment with the current administration and says of President Obama, “He’s basically trying to demonstrate that he hasn’t forgotten some of his promises of four years ago but a lot of people think it’s a little too late and everything is going to be dependent on the labour statistics coming out in September.” He later added about the president, “He’s led us to expect greatness out of our presidents.”
On the state of the current Republican party, Victor says, “Until we can have a candidate in the White House that isn’t extreme right, when will the moderates have a chance to lead the party? And the vast majority of Republicans are moderate.” Victor laments the direction the Republican party has taken and is convinced that the party has been “hijacked by the extreme right.”
He says Republicans living here are reluctant to admit their party affiliation. “Most of the people here by far are Democrats. In the last 15 years, I might have known 10 Republicans who are willing to admit it.” In contrast, extremists in the Republican party stateside are notably vocal in their views.
The spotlight this year may be on the presidential race but the balance of power can shift elsewhere with a number of gubernatorial as well as state and federal congressional seats being contested on November 6th. And although this year’s presidential race may appear a poor sequel to the exhilaration of the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama campaign of 2008 (according to some, that primary was the real race and not the final showdown between Obama and McCain), this year should prove to have all the excitement that we’ve come to expect from a US presidential race. As usual, a lot of emotion is riding on the election. And hope is still one of them.
Important note: If you forget to re-register once you’ve moved out of the US, the system used by your state tax authority will expect to see revenues from you, and any lack thereof can trigger a flag for payment anomaly, increasing your possibility of being audited. Therefore, when living and voting from abroad, it is advisable to state in your ballot that you are an American living abroad permanently.
Consulate General of the United States in Barcelona
Passeig Reina Elisenda de Montcada 23
Tel. 93 280 2227
The American Society of Barcelona
Sant Eusebi 3
Tel. 93 368 4689
FVAP (Federal Voting Assistance Program)
Offers on-line service where you can register to vote and/or request a ballot according to your state requirements (also available through the US consulate web page—see above).