Vote … as a Non-Citizen? Really?

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.

the letter from the Department of Elections of San Francisco, which seems to give me the right to vote in the Democratic primary
the letter from the Department of Elections of San Francisco

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.

at a voting station in Florida
at a polling station in Florida (photo courtesy of Erik (HASH) Hersman on Flickr under creative commons)

This letter from San Francisco could be one of two things:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

My whole US citizenship series:


Never miss the latest travel news, tips, reviews and amazing finds. Sign up for free and be the first to know when I publish something new!

about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

As a former US green card holder for a period of 18 years I can tell you that we got mail all the time wanting us to register to vote or asking us to sit on a jury etc. Government is so incompetent they they really don’t know the different between citizens and non-citizens. In fact journalists have located people voting illegally by comparing those who vote to those who said they could not be on a jury because they are not citizens.
Only this year are we citizens and legally allowed to do a bunch of stuff we have had many options to do illegally in the past.

All your tax problems were caused by the liberals. In their desperate search for a class of people to take from they selected those with foreign accounts. You are the fallout from that.
Why you would want to vote for the takers is beyond me.

Considering that the California primary happens so late in the year that its results are usually meaningless, I’d skip voting.

Countless investigations by conservatives trying to suppress the vote have never found more than a few examples of voter fraud. 7 papers, 4 government inquiries, 2 news investigations and 1 court ruling found exactly THIRTEEN cases of voter fraud nationwide between 2001-2010.

As for Democrats being ‘takers’? What malarky!
Carter DECREASED the deficit from the previous REPUBLICAN administrations by $55 billion
Reagan/Bush 1 ran it up to almost half a TRILLION dollars
($432 billion)
Clinton reduced the deficit COMPLETELY and left a $236 SURPLUS.
Bush 2 ran it right back up to OVER the trillion mark, leaving Obama a $1.4 trillion dollar deficit.
I’m no fan of the President but the numbers don’t lie. He will have cut the Republican deficit by 60% by the end of 2016.

And, his stimulus package has taken the US from losing 850,000 jobs a month to gaining over 200,000 jobs a month.

If there are any ‘takers’ here it’s the elites who take from the middle class to feed their rich friends and consolidate their power.

The takers are those that want to finance college with a financial transaction tax. Want to have a 30% minimum tax on income over a million. Those that want a surtax on income over 5 million. Those that want higher marginal tax rates on the rich, extra FICA taxes and additional estate taxes.
Or maybe it’s the ones that increase the marginal tax rates on the rich, added the parallel tax system of NIIT of 3.8% on the rich, increase the capital gains and dividend rates twice up to 23.8% and phased out deductions and the personal exemption at high incomes.
Or maybe it was the form crime enforcement of $10k fines against people who didn’t file info forms etc.
The answer to every single possible problems is to have a tax on the rich. Before and after you get the tax you have to say how evil they are and how they are the cause of all the problems at the same time taking their money which always seems to be good.

We’ve always been political junkies and this election cycle has been the most contentious I can ever remember, We watched the Republican and Democrat debates when they first started and we were back in the US this fall and we’re watching them online now that we’re in Europe. As a die-hard liberal and supporter of women’s issues I can’t ever imagine voting the Republican ticket, especially when confronted with the four yahoos that are left and spouting nonsense that could shut funding down for sites providing women’s health services. Bernie has a message that appeals to me and is infinitely more likeable than Hillary but Hillary will be my candidate of choice come November with her grasp of so many of the issues and her decades of experience. We’ll have to make arrangements for absentee ballots when we visit the US in August but the vote this November will be one of the most important ever. If you have a chance to vote I’d grab it, Rachel! (Your children may thank you for it someday, too.)

This is an interesting scenario indeed. Would your vote even count if it came in? Perhaps you could vote for the person you DON’T want because your vote might cause a scandal later and whoever you voted for will receive the blunt end of the controversy. So yes, I think you should definitely vote!

As for who… I don’t know. It really bugs me that with the 300 millions people we have in this country, these are the best candidates we have to choose from. I honestly don’t like any of them but I guess if I must choose one, I’d vote Sanders. Clinton seems so… dishonest. And Trump has no real plans for anything. He plays on the pent up anger of middle America and it’s working. But overall… meh. Can I vote Al Gore?

As a British person, I hardly think that my opinion would count in the least, but as a person who has met you once and know that whatever the case, you still love your country, I’d say if you still have the possibility to vote legally, then do so.

I’m not in the lest surprised that you still got a sumons, because administrative work takes simply ages to be complete. On paper, you lost nationality in November, but in administrative terms, it probably hasn’t caught up yet! At the very least, if it’s too late, your vote would be cancelled, if not, every vote counts!

As I said, I’m not American, but I studied Politcal Science in my twenties….and I’m a die-hard Liberal too, so the Democratic Party would always take my vote. Which candididate? It’s hard to say? I don’t particularly like Clinton as she’s slightly shady, but will she get the job done?

Yes, she probably will!

Geez, I think you should vote just because of the weird situation. Being able to say, I renounced my citizenship but was offered the vote is just too appealing. I know nothing about American Politics but I’d go for Clinton. She has experience and she is a woman!

My guess is the letter was sent in error.

Voting is the act of someone who believes she is still a citizen of the United States — doing so may very well jeopardize your renunciation, as you did it after your loss of nationality interview. Incidentally, the $2350 in nonrefundable so you’d have to pay it again if this causes your original application to be rejected.