Vote from Abroad helps Americans in Paris register for midterms


Turnout in US elections among foreign voters tends to be very low compared to the turnout of their US counterparts. US voter registration group Vote from Abroad has been trying to change that ahead of the upcoming midterm elections by hosting events like the one that took place at the Cité Universitaire in Paris on Thursday.

“Young people care about voting, but they are frustrated because they have to deal with old-fashioned voting procedures and have busy lives.”

Pavel is exasperated. Alabama, 21, studying philosophy and public policy at NYU Paris, will vote for the first time from abroad and finds the process too complicated.

“Having voter registration tables like this in place helps us streamline the process,” he said while attending the event on Thursday night.

Vote from Abroad, a “nonpartisan voter registration and overseas ballot application service available to all U.S. citizens and overseas military voters,” attempted to improve the low turnout of foreign voters by organizing events around Paris. In person, on Zoom or by phone, its volunteers help their fellow citizens who wish to vote in the November 8 midterm elections.

According to Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) reports, only 4.7% of eligible U.S. citizens (18 and older) voted midterm in 2018, compared to about 65% of eligible U.S. citizens. Despite the problems related to the Covid-19 pandemic, these percentages increased slightly to 7.8% for foreign voters and 79.2% for domestic voters in the 2020 presidential election.

Max, one of Vote from Abroad’s volunteers, said that so far “we’re getting so many people…on campus [voter registration] events” as in 2020 or 2018. “At other events, bookstores, markets and English-speaking cafés, attendance is slightly down compared to 2020 but comparable to 2018.”

Complex voting process

Vote from Abroad’s latest voter registration event took place Thursday evening at the Maison de l’Ile-de-France at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris, a private foundation and park that houses international students and scholars. guests. Max said the Cité was chosen because “a lot of students from all over the world live there” and the Maison de l’Ile-de-France, more specifically, because the people who attended the enrollment events at NYU and at the United States Foundation (US Foundation) suggested the location.

Vote from Abroad volunteers helped American citizens register to vote on October 20, 2022 at the Maison de l’Île-de-France at the Cité Internationale Universitaire in Paris. © Mariamne Everett, France 24

After registering to vote and submitting their ballots, many US citizens attending the event expressed frustration with what they perceive to be an overly complicated voting process.

“I’m not sure I would have voted if Vote from Abroad volunteers hadn’t walked me through the voter registration process,” said Chloe, a 20-year-old NYU anthropology student from Washington. .

Part of what makes the process so complicated is that each state has its own timelines and rules, which can include whether electronic or paper-only ballots will be accepted. Paper ballots must be postmarked and arrive by a state’s deadline to be counted.

Additionally, the ballot that voters fill out at these registration events is technically a backup ballot. Vote from Abroad volunteers explained that if a foreign voter wants to be absolutely sure that a vote is counted, it is best to send in a primary ballot as well, which a voter should receive after their election office confirms his registration. Volunteers also said some voters may not be able to return their ballots by registered mail.

All of this means that even after filling out two forms at the table at an event, a potential voter has simply sent in a request to register to vote, which must be received and acknowledged, and a backup ballot, which he may or may not know. was accepted unless they follow up with their local election office. A real nightmare to face alone, and a Kafkaesque situation even with help.

Why vote?

Many young people who came to the Maison de l’Île-de-France were eager to be helped by Vote From Abroad volunteers when registering to vote.

Antonio, a 20-year-old jazz studies student from California and first-time foreign voter, said “voting in general is important” even if he doesn’t have a specific issue in mind.

Pavel explained that he wanted to vote midterm because “I care about who controls Congress, my local office, and I think it’s important to vote in competitive elections. I also have issues that are important to me, including the codification of Roe v Wade, and I’m not enthused about Republican tax policies because they could cause the Biden administration to cut Medicare money and Social Security.” He added that his family in the United States is voting for the same reasons.

Jessica, a 20-year-old NYU Paris anthropology student from California and another first-time foreign voter, said she wanted to make sure she even votes abroad because she feels “voting is important , it is a form of political activism and that as a student it is my responsibility to shape the future”.

Although she thinks voting in itself is important, she said she felt compelled to do so because several issues are important to her, including climate change, gun safety and right to abortion.

Chloe said, “It’s important for young people to learn about hot topics and vote.”

Volunteers at Vote from Abroad events also help overseas voters check the status of their ballots. Pavel said he mailed in his ballot three weeks ago but was still waiting for an email to let him know it had been received. One of the volunteers called Pavel’s local election office and, after being put on hold several times, someone on the other end of the line told him to call back on Tuesday to see if the ballot had been received. .

Following the registration event, Matthew, a 35-year-old life coach from Florida who had contacted Vote from Abroad volunteers to help him send in his completed ballot, expressed his frustration with the overseas voting process.

He said the instructions accompanying the ballot were ‘vague and long’, that there are ‘many little tricks that can invalidate a ballot’ and that ‘the ballot itself is complicated, as various referendums are often poorly worded’. .

Also, because voting guidelines differ from state to state, Matthew said Vote from Abroad volunteers weren’t able to provide him with much help and “just repeated the same vague instructions. and unnecessary”.

Although he had registered to vote for the first time, he had not yet sent his ballot because he feared that it would not be counted due to a technicality.

Matthew said he really wanted to vote in this election because he feels “the gubernatorial and senate elections in my state are really important this year.” He concluded by saying that “the [US] voting system is designed to discourage people [from voting]. It’s been that way since the founding of the country and it’s not going to change because none of the parties has the political will to do so.”

Vote from Abroad will continue to organize voter registration events and provide support in the weeks leading up to the November 8 midterm elections. The next ones will be this Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the English bookstore Shakespeare & Company and the Zoom the Vote events every Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday. Foreign voters can also contact +33 OH GOD VOTE for assistance.


Fr

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