I just want to vote for the president
November 1, 2012 7:26 AM   Subscribe

Absentee voting for US elections - what is this 'tax liability' business? State is Massachusetts.

I'm an overseas US citizen and would like to vote in the upcoming presidential elections. I've requested a ballot to vote through the FVAP and received my ballot with no problems that I can return by email. However, my ballot includes not just the federal offices (president, senator in congress, rep in congress) but state/local offices (?) as well (sheriff, clerk of courts etc).

I've no interest in voting for those latter offices; more importantly, I don't want to be liable to any sort of complications with tax that the FVAP mentions 'may' happen. The local town clerk does not know anything about this and just told me that this was the only ballot they have available.

Am I safe if I just fill in the ballot for the federal positions and leaving the state-specific bits blank? Or would the act of returning the ballot (or even registering to vote?) by itself put me at risk? I've tried google but I'm more confused than ever. I don't currently pay tax to anywhere in the US; nor am I resident anywhere in the US or intend to return soon.

posted by pikeandshield to Law & Government (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It looks like this page may have the answer.

You're probably supposed to be filing federal income taxes, by the way.
posted by hoyland at 7:35 AM on November 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

i recently got forms from votefromabroad.org and it gets you the right forms and explains the bit about the local taxes and it appears to give you the right forms if you just want to do federal voting and avoid the local tax complication
posted by saraindc at 8:01 AM on November 1, 2012

I don't currently pay tax to anywhere in the US; nor am I resident anywhere in the US or intend to return soon.

The US is one of the few countries in the world that taxes its citizens wherever they are on the planet.

Of course, there is no duty to file a return unless you owe taxes, and there is a substantial exclusion for foreign-earned income ($95,100 in 2012). You also are entitled to credits on paid foreign taxes. So, there is a good chance you have little to no US federal income tax liability. However, it is probably still a good idea to file your annual tax returns. When I lived abroad, I filed every year and had a tax bill of zero because I made nowhere near the foreign-earned income exclusion.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:23 AM on November 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Note for that overseas exclusion to be valid, you cannot be on US soil for more than two weeks of the tax year.
posted by Rash at 8:28 AM on November 1, 2012

Of course, there is no duty to file a return unless you owe taxes

IANAtaxprofessional, but it's my understanding that you must file a Federal return, even if you don't owe; the IRS seems to confirm this.

Regarding the state-specific rules about filing (even if you don't owe) and how that may or may not affect your willingness to fill out your ballot, you really need to consult with a state-specific tax pro.

I have voted before - in MA, even, years ago when I lived there - without filling out every damn bubble in the ballot and it was never a problem, if that helps.
posted by rtha at 8:35 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're a United States citizen, you have to file taxes with the IRS whether you live in the United States or not. Presumably, that is what the tax questions on the ballot are referring to.

If you do not like this, do not vote and do not let the IRS know of your presence.
posted by dfriedman at 8:41 AM on November 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

My sister, a US citizen, lives in Canada and has dual citizenship. She discovered last year that she should have been filing forms 2555 and 1116 for at least the previous six years. She completed the forms, and seemed to be OK on them. However, the IRS sent her a huge tax bill with very impressive penalties.

She is afraid that her only option is to renounce her US citizenship.

I don't know your tax filing situation, and don't know anything about how voting would affect it.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 8:45 AM on November 1, 2012

Presumably, that is what the tax questions on the ballot are referring to.

No. No, its not.

Tanizaki, Rash, rtha, dfriedman, Midnight Skulker: The OP is asking about state tax liability not federal tax liability.

Yes, us overseas people must file a federal tax return every year. That's a given.

But what the OP's links state is that if he submits a ballot and votes for state measures he may also suddenly be obliged to pay state taxes - something none of us expats do.

hoyland's link has your answer:

If the official nonetheless sends you a full ballot, you should only mark it for Federal offices. Then, you should send the official a separate letter, in a separate envelope, and point out that you had requested a ballot that was limited to Federal offices and that you only marked your ballot for Federal offices. (Do not include this letter in the same envelope with your marked absentee ballot, because notes accompanying absentee ballots are generally neither read nor preserved.) Keep a copy of the absentee ballot request and the letter, just in case.
posted by vacapinta at 9:00 AM on November 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Massachusetts residents have to pay Federal and State income taxes. As far as I know, there are no municipalities in Massachusetts that have their own income tax; it may even be forbidden by the Massachusetts constitution.

So if you are worried about being on the hook for additional municipal taxes, I wouldn't sweat it.

As far as only voting in the Federal elections and leaving the other spots blank: no one is going to look at the details of your ballot. Remember that privacy of voting thing? They'll know that you voted in a certain jurisdiction, but not which races you voted in.
posted by alms at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2012

Thank you for the replies - it seems hoyland's link has the answer to my question about state tax. Thanks for all the tips about general federal tax issues as well, though - I've been a student all my life so far and not currently in paid employment, so I haven't had to deal with income tax yet, and (shamefully) I never realised I had to file for federal tax even if I'm no longer resident or intend to return to the US.
posted by pikeandshield at 9:56 AM on November 1, 2012

She is afraid that her only option is to renounce her US citizenship.

From what I know, it isn't sufficient to simply renounce us citizenship. You need to settle up with the IRS and there still might be other things to clear up.

Short article from the Wall Street Journal.

I have also heard in some countries, there is a long waiting list to renounce.
posted by jazh at 11:58 AM on November 1, 2012

The US embassy in Japan claims:
If you claim a particular state as your residence and have other ties with that state in addition to voting then you may be liable for state and local taxation, depending upon that particular state law.
At least for me, that makes me comfortable enough voting even for local offices, though I generally don't bother.
posted by vasi at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2012

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