Teach About U.S. Blog

Chapter 1: Here, There, Everywhere -- Americans Report to the Ballot Box

Chapter 1: Here, There, Everywhere -- Americans Report to the Ballot Box

by Mallory King -
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My name is Mallory, I am an American who has been living in Germany for close to nine years. Since I moved to Germany, I have voted in two presidential elections. The first time was tricky and I almost didn’t vote. I couldn’t figure out how to get my ballot, but after some googling, I got some help from the website Vote from Abroad. I try to help others with the confusing process. 

I am now part of the non-partisan organization, Vote from Abroad, that I googled years ago. Like I said, I originally heard about it after I myself had difficulties voting in the 2012 presidential election. After finding the website and hearing about events near me, I got in contact with some volunteers and have been working on simplifying the process for others ever since. The website helps people from every state register to vote. You simply visit the website and can select your state and it provides step by step directions on how to register.   

In school, I studied political science and was very active in politics myself. I remember the first time I ever voted. I remember my dad taking me to watch Al Gore get off an airplane, stumbling across George W. Bush’s hotel room in high school, and going to a political rally in high school, where I saw Barack Obama speak in my home state. This was, of course, before he announced he would be running for president. 

My passion for politics started early. Which is why, when I heard that under 5% of Americans vote from abroad, I felt the need to do something. I recently read stateside Americans are over 13 times more likely to vote than expatriates (FVAP.gov), a shockingly disappointing number. It is estimated that over 2.9 million U.S. citizens living abroad are eligible to vote, which is why it is so important that we reach out to those eligible voters and remind them of their right to participate in the democratic process. What is more, many Americans are confused about how their ballot counts when living abroad. Many believe their ballot doesn’t count in the election. However, absentee ballots are counted for every election and are always counted in the final totals. 

As part of my volunteer work with Vote from Abroad, this past Saturday, I was in downtown Hamburg on one of the main shopping street s looking for Americans to register to vote. I wasn’t alone, other Americans came out too, showing their passion for the democratic process. Candice, a 29-year-old from Maryland said, “I voted from abroad in every election thus far with the exception of one primary… I am here today because I think voting is one of the most important civic duties. I would like to help anyone who wants to vote.” 

One of the other volunteers, Kira, a 19-year-old female from Ohio said, “I was planning on taking a gap year to go to the States to canvas, the real door to door stuff, but with everything going on I decided to do something here.” (Canvasing, a common American political technique, is used to initiate direct contact with individuals to talk to them about a political party, issue, or candidate or to register voters. As Kira mentioned to me, she wanted to walk door to door knocking on voter’s front doors to talk to them.) 

Two volunteers for Vote from Abroad, trying to get the attention of Americans walking by, to assist them in registering to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Together we walked the streets of downtown Hamburg and handed out dozens of cards to anyone we heard speaking “American” English. At the Vote from Abroad table, we even registered three Americans who just happened to be walking by our table and noticed the American materials. 

Vinnie, a 31-year-old volunteer from New Jersey said, “We put up this table to inform U.S. citizens of their right to vote even if they live outside the U.S. A lot of Americans outside of the U.S. don’t know they have the right to vote and we try to help them navigate this process, to register and request their absentee ballot.” 

Our first walk-by was a dual citizen, with a father from Florida and a German mother. The process took him about fifteen minutes, but luckily, he was patient enough to wait, while we navigated through a few of the process’s hurdles. He said he would have never registered had he not seen our table, he doesn’t ever think about it, because he usually has ballots sent to him directly at home here in Germany. 

Our next walk-by was a woman from Florida who was on her way to work. She mentioned not even knowing she could vote. She has been living in Germany for nine years and had never known she could. She seemed excited and grabbed our card. We gave her our phone number to call in case she had questions about the process. Sure enough, she called, problems were solved, and just like that we had another registered voter. 

Coincidently two voters from Minnesota walked by. I had a good chat with them about the website and how to register in Minnesota. They were already registered and had even used the Vote from Abroad website. Jessica, a 20-year-old Minnesotan said, “The efficiency and the practicality of the Vote from Abroad website helped me feel prepared and sure in my ability to vote come November. I have never voted before, so I was completely lost.” 

It was a rewarding day for sure and of course it was also fun to meet other Americans here in Germany.