Some time ago, I wrote a piece about the issue of people living outside their country of citizenship being able to vote, pointing to the example of the system which had just been adopted for the Italian Parliament, which provides specific seats for Italian voters who live in other countries. (As it turned out, those few seats specifically reserved for citizens based outside the country were crucial in the new Italian government being able to hold the slimmest of majorities in the Senate – including one seat held by an Australian based Italian man).
I raise it again now because I read this article in the International Herald Tribune which says that USA citizens living abroad now have direct representation as part of the voting process for determining the Democrats’ nominee for the USA Presidency contest. According to the article, “Americans living abroad have been able to vote in federal elections since 1976, and those who vote in a home state’s primary cannot also vote in the Democrats Abroad balloting.” However, I think this is the first time that they will be able to vote directly for expatriate or diaspora delegates. It is only very small representation, but as the Italian Senate result shows, tiny numbers make a difference. And even though the estimated 6.5 million citizens of the USA living abroad only get to vote for 22 delegates to the Democrat convention, which is the same as the USA state of South Dakota with its population of 750 000, I think it is still quite significant for them to have any direct representation, let alone one equivalent to a state.
In another small but significant development, some of the voting can be conducted via the internet. Internet voting was also used for a small number of overseas based Australians in the recent election.
Australians living overseas already have the right to vote in the electorate inside Australia where they are enrolled (which is usually where they used to live before leaving the country) – although it can be hard to stay on the roll the longer you are away. But the notion of having a representative specifically for people who live overseas is quite a different thing and a big step further. I doubt it will ever happen, and I recognise the many problematic issues involved in such a system, but given the growing number of Australians who live and work in other countries for extended periods of time, and the benefit it brings to Australia to have ex-pats maintain direct interest in and connection to Australia, I think it is still an issue worth talking about from time to time. This paper by Andrew Leigh from ANU suggests one approach.