I will start this post by saying that I am a strong believer in democracy and have been so my entire adult life. To me, the right to vote is not merely a right, but a privilege. That being said, I haven’t always voted when I had the chance and I’m silently kicking myself for it. The truth is, all those instances occurred when I was living abroad. In fact, this year I had the chance to cast my vote in elections in three different countries: Finland, Denmark, and Austria. I voted two out of these three times and thought I would reflect and gather my thoughts on this important matter.
Voting from Abroad
So, let’s consider this: You’re going to live abroad for a predetermined amount of time, perhaps for exchange studies or a work-away. And now it just so happens that this is an important election year in your home country. Do you go through the trouble of voting from abroad or simply miss this one time, seeing that you’ll be back for any future elections? Or would you say that you absolutely cannot miss casting your vote as you’ll have to live with the result of this election for the rest of your life (or the next 4,5,6 years at least)?
And what happens when you leave your home country indefinitely? When I left Austria permanently about three years ago, I had the authorities put my name on the international voters’ registry. That way I would be able to vote from abroad. Of course, I did this way too late for the presidential elections which bummed me out massively. The following year we moved from Finland to Denmark and I managed to get the paperwork done in time for the legislative election.
I received my ballot, but what next? Who would I vote for? To be honest, I had been utterly out of touch with Austrian politics. And anyway, who was I to determine the future government of Austria?! I was not even living there anymore! But alas, I was still an Austrian citizen and just couldn’t not vote. Will I still feel the same way 20 years from now, though? I’m not sure.
Alright, let’s consider the temporary scenario one more time. As an EU citizen, you are entitled to vote during municipal elections in any EU country you might be staying in (although some, like Finland, have a minimum amount of time you must have lived in the country before you do so). You are a part of the community at the time, but you most probably won’t be in the future. So should you make use of your right? Should you be voting abroad?
Finland held municipal elections this year. I had lived there for three years, so by any standard, I should have cast my vote. But I didn’t. Not because I didn’t know how to, Finland was actually great about providing information in English on how, where, and when to vote. I didn’t vote because I knew I was going to leave the country only a few months later.
On the other hand, we have Denmark where municipal elections took place in November, only a couple of months after we had moved there. So here I was, my invitation to vote had arrived by mail and I had no idea what to do. I was going to be in Denmark for a while, but I hadn’t been there long enough to familiarize myself with Danish politics. Should I vote? I decided to take this as an opportunity to learn more about my newly adopted home, took a couple of tests, read party programs on the Internet (thank you, Google Translate). Only a few days later, I walked to the polling station and cast my vote. And to be honest, I’m pretty darn happy I did.
On the Move
So, what does this mean for expats? First, many don’t realize that they even have the right to vote, but often they make up a significant portion of the electorate. For example, 15% of the electorate during Copenhagen’s municipal elections was made up by non-Danish citizens, but turnout amongst these has been observed to be as low as 15 percent. However, our identity crisis is not the only reason for neglecting to vote.
Sometimes it can simply be hard to keep up with our duties. Take Austria for example. Although I had done my best to inform the relevant authorities of my relocation to Denmark, my ballot was still delivered to my Finnish address. Thankfully the Finnish postal service is more than reliable and my ballot found its way to my Danish address just in time. Had I moved outside of Europe, I doubt I would have ever received it in time. Perhaps next time, eh Austria?
To a Brighter Future
Maybe it will never get easier. Maybe we’ll never know where we really belong. Maybe we’ll never know in which place to vote and in which not. And perhaps we don’t need to. I believe there is nothing wrong with still caring about your homeland, even though you haven’t lived there in 40 years. And there is certainly nothing wrong with helping to shape the future of a place that’s entirely new to you. Voting abroad is your right and privilege. And in the end, all that really matters is that we are engaged and open-minded. I honestly don’t care which side of the political spectrum you’re on, as long as you respect your privilege to vote and speak up for a brighter future, together 🙂
Now, what do you think? Have you voted while living abroad? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!