Sunday, September 25, 2022

James Cox

The United States is gearing up for hugely important midterm elections on Tuesday, November 8th, and up to 25,000 people living in Ireland could be eligible to vote.

Democrats Abroad Ireland is currently looking to identify as many of these people as possible, and help them to register ahead of the deadline, with the first cut-off coming on October 5th.

Chair of Democrats Abroad Ireland, Patti Shields, told BreakingNews.ie: “There are three distinct populations of people over here in Ireland. We’re all similar because we’re all Americans abroad, but there’s a large transient student population that comes over to study. We work with the universities here and their abroad programmes as well as colleges that send students abroad to Ireland to make sure they know that they’re eligible to vote and the deadlines and processes.

“We estimate there are between 5,000 and 10,00 students we can target every election season.

“The second grouping… the US has brought a lot of multinational companies to Ireland and with that in some instances they brought management and talent. There are also a lot of Irish people who have gone to the US in a professional capacity and brought their skills back to Ireland, that’s a huge population that we see continue to grow.

“I initially moved to Ireland in 2011, and I have seen a population of young professionals, especially young families, relocating to Ireland.”

She explained that another large group is Irish people who moved to the States and lived and work there for a number of years before returning.

“They might have lived in the States for 20/30 years, they haven’t necessarily been back, their passports have expired… they don’t really consider themselves Americans even though they did gain their citizenship as part of the journey of living in the States and might not realise they have the opportunity to vote from abroad. We target them as well.”

Older people are often “the most intimidated” by online registration, so Democrats Abroad plays a role in helping with this, including one-on-one events both in person and over Zoom.

“In most states you can electronically submit your ballot request and your registration completely electronically, so you don’t even need a printer any more… you can digitally capture your signature,” she said.

“We do one-on-one voter assistance and help them manage steps as simple as getting the piece of paper in front of the camera, that kind of thing. I think the fact that in the past three years there’s been a growing number of voters and population moving here and also them being very aware and very participative in the US electoral process just speaks to the relationship between the US and Ireland.”

A voter registration event for Democrats Abroad Ireland.

For the 2020 US presidential election, 17.81 per cent of eligible voters in Ireland participated, compared to a world average of 7.8 per cent.

This meant Ireland ranked 19th in the world for US voter turnout.

US population estimates for Americans living in Ireland suggested around 23,000 people were eligible to vote in the election.

Post-Covid, and factoring in students, Ms Shields believes this number could now stand at 25,000 or more ahead of the midterm elections.

Ms Shields said a lot of people eligible to vote are reluctant to do so over tax questions, however, she pointed out that this does not apply to federal elections.

“If you vote for a federal office, president and vice president are federal. You can vote for a senator or your representative and there are no tax implications, the files are not shared at a federal level, the tax men will not come.

“Where it gets a little tricky is if you start voting for governor, or in state elections, that may raise a flag with state officials and the same protection that exists at a federal level does not exist at state level, so state tax could be after you, and I’ve seen it happen. I’ve never seen it happen in Ireland, but I’ve seen it happen in France.

“It’s one of those urban myths, and we get asked at tax seminars, ‘if I vote, and I go to the US can they take my passport because I haven’t paid taxes?’

“It’s a reasonable question, but the answer is no, voting for a federal office has nothing to do with the IRS and tax code, that’s something that the older generation doesn’t understand, and it’s something we want them to know. If all they’re doing is voting from their old address from 30 years ago for a federal office, and they’re a US citizen, then they’re fine.”

Ms Shields said it can be more difficult to get people to vote in midterm elections than presidential ones, even in the US.

However, the balance of the House of Representatives and Senate majority could swing either way in this one, so it will have implications for the 2024 presidential election and the rest of Joe Biden’s presidency.

She also feels the issues at stake in the midterm elections will be motivating factors for a large group of people.

Democrats Abroad Ireland at Flavours of Fingal on July 4th.

They include women’s reproductive rights, gun control, climate change, voter rights, and the war in Ukraine.

The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling, which provided the constitutional right to abortion, will be a particularly big issue, she said.

“The parallel that strikes me very much is for the first time in a long time in the US, reproductive rights for women are on the ballot at state level because of the decision of the Supreme Court, and it reminds me of seeing people fly back to Ireland to vote on Repeal the Eighth.

“The benefit of being a US citizen is you don’t need to fly back, you need a stamp, and you can have your voice heard.

“The issues have become far more globalised; climate change is affecting everyone… that’s certainly on the ballot, women’s reproductive rights, people in Ireland have a very strong perspective on gun control… that’s on the ballot. Every school shooting resonates globally, people just don’t understand it.

“Obviously there are a lot of internal politics too. Voting rights are important, Republicans have spent a lot of time re-districting lines, that would be a less tangible issue for people in Ireland. But I think climate change, women’s reproductive rights and gun control. Being an American voter in Ireland you would see there are positive alternatives for how those issues can be legislated.”

Ms Shields said the primary goal for her group is getting as many people as possible to register to vote, so they do it in a non-partisan way through a website called votefromabroad.org, despite their own political leanings.

“When we do our votefromabroad.org, our general voter outreach, which is really I’d say 90 per cent of what I’m doing right now, we do that in a non-partisan way. We support the act of registering to vote without partisanship.

“The website we refer people to for voting is completely non-partisan in terms of you go all the way through the process of registering to vote, then at the end of the process if you care to hear more about Democrats Abroad it will take you to a page to go there. When we do in-person events we don’t even identify ourselves as members of Democrats Abroad. Firstly it’s safer, you don’t get anyone harassing you and also the act of preserving democracy, more recently post-January 6th, has become a Democratic issue. It used to be an all-American issue.

“That used to not be a partisan thing, but apparently it is now.”

The registration process is simple enough, however, some people find difficulties with it and that is what the group helps with.

A previous US address, and the last four digits of an old social security number are enough to register, but there are also alternative routes.

“You just have to go to the website, and it literally takes about seven minutes. You need to know your old address, if you have an old social security number you need the last four digits but if you don’t have that there are other ways to do it, the process itself is quite easy. You just need to do it far enough in advance.”

She added: “Some of the ballots are mailed, they’re sent to some voters electronically… it varies by state, but most ballots need to be mailed back, or a copy needs to be mailed back.

“You need to mail something back. You just have to do it well enough in advance that it can be received in time for the election. The mail services in our current countries and the US I still don’t think have fully recovered from Covid, things take a bit longer, so we’re encouraging people to get out and do it sooner rather than later.

“We’re encouraging people to register to vote and request your ballot before October 5th, the first state deadline is October 5th, so if people have already requested their ballot they should receive it by September 25th, 45 days out from the election.

“There is also a backup plan for people who don’t receive their ballot for some reason, we kick in to that by October 15th. If people have not received it yet there is a backup ballot that you can fill out and send in, when that’s received by the election office they match it to your registration, and it’s counted as a legal ballot.”

US votes from abroad tend to lean towards Democrats, and Ms Shields explained that a big reason is the majority of Americans abroad tend to come from Democratic states.

In Ireland, the majority of Americans are from California, Massachusetts and New York.

Democrats Abroad also hosts online events for voter registration, and one Saturday included US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and actor Kevin Bacon, who both spoke along with Democratic candidates.

“I think the Democratic Party has begun to really value the impact that voters from abroad have,” she said.

While political pundits in the US and abroad had predicted huge Republican gains in the midterms, momentum appears to have swung back in favour of the Democrats.

This is due to factors such as an increase in popularity for Mr Biden and the reaction to Roe v Wade being overturned.

Ms Shields cited a vote in Kansas, which saw people overwhelmingly in favour of protecting abortion rights, as a big moment for the country.

“The Supreme Court ruling was huge and the vote in Kansas was the catalyst. It is a deep red state and for them to reject the language in their constitution that was proposed that would have squashed abortion rights, for that to be rejected by two thirds of Kansas voters was amazing, and I think it gave Democrats the focus on critical issues and this is a huge one.”

There’s no downtime when Donald Trump, or even Ron DeSantis, is around.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2024, has courted controversy by flying migrants to Democratic areas such as Martha’s Vineyard and parts of Washington DC.

Ms Shields said she hopes voters see this as taking advantage of vulnerable people for political points.

“The Republicans sending planes of people to Martha’s Vineyard and things like that shouldn’t help them. Hopefully it will be a clear choice what is right for people in November.”

So will there be any break after the midterms? Ms Shields said this is unlikely, given the shift to focus on the 2024 election.

“The Republicans are already strong out of the gates in terms of positioning who they will bring forward, there’s no downtime when Donald Trump, or even Ron DeSantis, is around. There is no rest for the weary it will be game on from the Wednesday after the election.”

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