Site Helps Voters Cast Ballots From Abroad

This story was written by Heather Hodder, Washington Square News
Taking tango lessons in Buenos Aires or hanging at a London pub may sound like tempting options for next fall, but for students with political tendencies, so does participating in the 2008 presidential election. Horror stories of unaccounted-for ballots from previous elections might defer conflicted students from going abroad.

"Voting is really important to me," said New York University freshman Christine Johnson. "If I couldn't vote abroad, I probably wouldn't go."

A report from the Government Accountability Office estimated that there are 6 million Americans living abroad. Wagner alumna Jodi Ekelchik, the secretary of Democrats Abroad, is one of them. In 2006, Democrats Abroad launched VoteFromAbroad.com, an online forum that simplifies the voter registration process.

According to Ekelchik, the website is very time-efficient.

"By answering a few simple questions, the voter immediately receives a completed FPCA [Federal Post Card Application] ballot request, ready to be printed, signed and mailed to the address provided," she said.

Another benefit to completing this process online is that the website provides a write-in ballot, just in case the federal form does not come in time.

"This is a great backup in case a student does not receive an absentee ballot in time to be submitted to their state," Ekelchik said.

In order to be able to vote in the upcoming election, Americans living abroad should register to vote as early as possible in 2008, and certainly no later than August of that year; the deadlines vary by state. Also, Americans living abroad should mail in a ballot request every election year.

Though a recent federal law states that a single ballot request should be valid for four years -- some states, such as California, permit permanent absentee registration -- registering every year is suggested. Ekelchik recommends taking other precautionary measures as well.

"Our votes are administered by 3,000 different local authorities across the country, each with its own understanding of the law," she said. "Better safe than sorry: Send a new ballot request each election year."

Ekelchik has helped simplify the voting process, but how will students know which candidate to vote for without a constant flow of information?

According to Christopher Nicolussi, director of study abroad admissions, staying up-to-date abroad shouldn't be a problem.

"[In 2004] all of the sites notified students via e-mails, posters and events about the upcoming election," he said in an e-mail. "The staffs at NYU in Florence and NYU in Madrid recorded the debates shown on U.S. television leading up the election. They then invited students to evening events where they could watch the recordings or stop in the office during the day to watch the tape."

Nicolussi said that living abroad during the elections could even prove to be an advantage by providing a fresh perspective.

"One of the many benefits of studying abroad is seeing the U.S. from the outside," he said. "While abroad, students have the distinct advantage of seeing how the U.S. and U.S. news stories are covered outside our borders. During an election year, this is particularly interesting because you get to see how the candidates are perceived in countries where they may have a big impact should they win."
© 2007 Washington Square News via U-WIRE
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