Jay Sexton, director of the institute, and Patrick Andelic, research associate, argue in their report, America’s Overseas Voters: How They Could Decide the US Presidency in 2016, that expatriate voters “are an often overlooked constituency that have been critical to US elections in the past and, if mobilised, could be even more significant in future”.
But with average expat turnout at 12 per cent in presidential elections, the report says that both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Overseas have a challenge on their hands to mobilise the overseas vote.
“Taken as a single entity, expatriate US citizens constitute the thirteenth most populous US state. Yet overseas voters exercise far less political power than they potentially could, given their numbers,” say the authors.
“The strikingly low turnout among expatriates may reflect an assumption that their votes are unlikely to have a significant impact. However, expatriate voters have played a decisive role in the outcomes of past elections.
“Perhaps the most famous example of this was in 2000, when delayed overseas ballots gave George W. Bush a narrow 537-vote lead when the Florida recount was stopped by the Supreme Court. Had the election been decided based on the ballots that had arrived by the November 26 deadline, Al Gore would have won the state of Florida, and the presidential election, by 202 votes.”
All adult American expats have been entitled to absentee ballots in federal elections since 1975. Even so, there is no reliable estimate of actually how many are abroad. Eight million is the generally accepted ‘ballpark’ figure, plus another two million military and federal employees.