Expat Voting (U.S.)
February 10, 2014 4:15 AM   Subscribe

I am a U.S. citizen living in Germany. I intend to stay in Germany forever, and I will probably retain my U.S. citizenship forever (very difficult to have dual citizenship in Germany). Am I eligible to vote in state elections, particularly U.S. senators and congresspersons? I'm from California, but no longer own any property there or have an address there.
posted by dmvs to Law & Government (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
To register to vote in California, you must be:

A United States citizen,
A resident of California (which includes a person who was a resident of this state when they were last living within the territorial limits of the U.S. or D.C. or a citizen born outside of the U.S. or D.C., but whose parent or legal guardian was a resident of this state when the parent or legal guardian was last living within the territorial limits of the U.S. or D.C. and he or she has not previously registered to vote in any other state),
18 years of age or older on Election Day,
Not in prison, on parole, serving a state prison sentence in county jail, serving a sentence for a felony pursuant to subdivision (h) of Penal Code section 1170, or on post release community supervision (for more information on the rights of people who have been incarcerated, please see the Secretary of State's Voting Rights for Californians with Criminal Convictions or Detained in Jail or Prison), and
Not found by a court to be mentally incompetent.
posted by HuronBob at 4:27 AM on February 10, 2014

The answer is Yes. Here's California information on registering as an overseas voter.

The Overseas Vote Foundation has lots of useful material.
posted by vacapinta at 4:28 AM on February 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Note that while you can vote in federal elections without affecting your taxes, voting in state elections can affect your state tax liability. It appears that this is not the case for California, which would still consider you nonresident for tax purposes even if you voted, but it might be worth checking with a professional.
posted by Nothing at 4:57 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not an elections lawyer. This is an unqualified statement of my interpretation of California law.

I don't think you are a resident of California any more, and I don't think you can legally vote. I do think you'll get away with it regardless. California allows people who are not currently in California to be residents so long as they are away from state for a temporary/transitory purpose. That does not apply to you. Publication 1031 defines residency for tax purposes. I couldn't find a similar document for voting purposes; I assume they are the same but don't know that). It specifically excludes people who have no intention of returning to California. It even gives an example that seems to apply to you:
Example 5 – You receive and accept a permanent job offer in Spain. You and your spouse/RDP sell your home in California, pack all of your possessions and move to Spain on May 5, 2011, with your children. You lease an apartment and enroll your children in school in Spain. You obtain a driver’s license from Spain and make numerous social connections in your new home. You have no intention of returning to California.

Determination: You are a part-year resident. Through May 4, 2011, you were a California resident. On May 5, 2011, you became a nonresident. All your income while you were a resident is taxable by California. While you are a nonresident, only income from California sources is taxable by California.
While stating this, I am fully aware that the chances of you getting in trouble for voting in a California election is effectively zero because there is almost no enforcement of such laws and because it's hard to prove you have no intention of returning to California.
posted by saeculorum at 7:26 AM on February 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not an immigration lawyer or any sort of constitutional scholar. I am a US citizen living in the UK. I've looked into this question myself, and I've found Vote From Abroad to be a very helpful resource. I would also encourage you to contact your local branch of Democrats Abroad or Republicans Abroad, if you identify with either party. They will answer questions you have, and remind you of upcoming voting deadlines, and host debate viewing parties, and do all sorts of things to help you remain part of the democratic process. (Honestly, even if you aren't a Democrat or Republican, I bet they'd be happy to answer questions and have you come to debates and so forth.)

That said, here is my understanding:

As a US citizen, you have the right to full representation in the federal government. This includes representation in the Senate and House. But you are not currently a resident of any state. To get around this dilemma, US law enables you to vote for a Senator and Representative from the last district in which you resided in the US. (You will not be able to vote in strictly local elections, like governor or state congress.) VoteFromAbroad.org will tell you how to register for the relevant ballot.

Casting this ballot will not obligate you to pay state income tax, or to serve on local juries. However, in my experience, you will still get the occasional jury summons, or a letter from your state income tax board asking why you haven't paid state taxes lately. I've always responded to these letters with proof of my foreign address, and that has always seemed to satisfy the relevant authority.
posted by yankeefog at 8:01 AM on February 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think you are a resident of California any more, and I don't think you can legally vote.

No. Under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, you have a right to vote for at least federal offices (including the election of U.S. senators and representatives) even if you are no longer a resident of the state you lived in last.

42 USC § 1973ff-1(a) says:
Each State shall—
(1) permit absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters to use absentee registration procedures and to vote by absentee ballot in general, special, primary, and runoff elections for Federal office;…
And 42 USC § 1973ff-6(a)(5)(C) defines "overseas voter" as including:
a person who resides outside the United States and (but for such residence) would be qualified to vote in the last place in which the person was domiciled before leaving the United States.
posted by grouse at 8:07 AM on February 10, 2014

You will not be able to vote in strictly local elections, like governor or state congress.

This varies by state. For example, I am an expat last resident in Washington state and I get to vote in all state and local elections based on my last residential address there.
posted by grouse at 8:08 AM on February 10, 2014

The FVAP.gov site (Federal Voting Assistance Program) says:

Can You Vote Absentee?

In order to vote in U.S. elections you must be:
--A citizen of the United States on the date of the election in which you wish to vote
--At least 18 years old on Election Day. (Some states allow 17-year olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 on or before the general election.)

The absentee voting process applies to you if you are:
--An active duty member of the U.S. Uniformed Services, Merchant Marine or Activated National Guard
--A family member (spouse or dependent)
--A U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S.

Notice there is nothing there about whether or not you return to the US. But, we're talking about State elections. For California, I do see the following FAQ:

I am an American citizen, but I have never lived in the U.S., can I register to vote in this State?

Again, California also grants the right to vote to your children born abroad, who may be US citizens but have NEVER been in the US in their adult life. Again, there is no checkbox or promise anywhere that they intend to go to the US in the future.
posted by vacapinta at 8:30 AM on February 10, 2014

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