On my return from a short vacation with my family, I was surprised to find a letter from the Department of Elections of the City of San Francisco waiting for me, offering me the opportunity to vote in the Democratic primary.
Before I moved to the Netherlands back in 1997, I lived in San Francisco, so San Francisco was where I stayed registered for voting as an overseas American.
Apparently, since I did not express a preference for a party when I registered, I am allowed by some of the political parties to take part in their primaries. Specifically, I can choose to vote in the primary of the American Independent Party, the Democratic Party, or the Libertarian Party.
If you’ve kept up with my story, you’ll see the irony of my receiving this notice. If you haven’t, I’ll explain: I’m not a US citizen.
Or rather, I might be a US citizen, depending on who you ask. If you ask the US State Department, I am still a US citizen. I renounced my citizenship on November 18, 2015 but I do not actually lose my citizenship until I receive my Certificate of Loss of Nationality. That has not yet arrived.
If you ask the IRS, my citizenship stopped as of November 18, 2015. That won’t stop them from auditing me later if they want, but in their view I am no longer a citizen.
So can I vote? I have been going on the assumption that I can’t vote in the US anymore. Non-citizens don’t have the right to vote.
This letter from San Francisco could be one of two things:
- A mistake. Different parts of the state and federal governments are notoriously bad at communicating with each other. Perhaps San Francisco just hasn’t been informed of my renunciation. Perhaps they never will be. My name hasn’t appeared in the “name and shame” list yet, after all.
- An honest offer, based on the idea that I am still a citizen. If I am still a citizen, I still have the right to vote.
A Moral Dilemma
So it seems that I can vote in the Democratic primary in California, whether it’s a mistake or not. (Given that I didn’t even know either of the other two parties were having primaries, and given that their primaries won’t make any difference, I’m only considering voting in the Democratic Party’s primary.)
The next question, then, is: should I? After all, I’ve renounced citizenship. Although I still feel American, and always will, I consciously, deliberately, after careful thought, gave up my citizenship. I knew—or thought I knew—that that included giving up the right to vote. Does that mean it would be wrong to take advantage of this opportunity? Would that constitute voter fraud?
Which candidate should I vote for?
Because I did not expect to vote in the US anymore, I’ve been following the elections in a somewhat more casual way than in past election years. Most of my conversations with friends, colleagues and students here in the Netherlands about the US elections are about Trump, and my vain attempts to answer their primary question: “Why? Just WHY?”
As for Sanders and Clinton, I haven’t really thought much about them. I dismissed Sanders at first, assuming that anyone who uses the word “socialist” in a positive way was doomed to an ignominious and early defeat. I didn’t realize the level of animosity toward Clinton.
So even if I do decide to vote, I don’t know who I’d vote for. As a bleeding-heart liberal to the core, Sanders’ message appeals to me. At the same time, I think his proposals are too idealistic for the current political climate and the stonewalling that’s become routine in Congress. Clinton knows her way around the corridors of power and would be a strong negotiator for compromise positions. I’m skeptical that Sanders has that level of political fight—or compromise—in him. I also fear that in a vote between Sanders and Trump, too many of the undecided middle would either vote Trump or stay home, whereas more might be persuaded to vote for Clinton.
But these are just general impressions; I haven’t put any effort into researching their positions on any issues, except that both seem to be in favor of residence-based taxation, the number 1 issue for overseas Americans.
So what do you think? Should I vote or shouldn’t I? Why or why not? And if I should vote, who should I vote for? Please keep your comments civil or they will not be published!