8 Reasons All Students Should Register to Vote From Abroad

by Mary Ellen Dingley

It’s a presidential election year in the United States, and that is all many Americans and non-Americans can talk about. In our globalized world, an election in one country doesn’t just affect that country; from trade deals to defense treaties, one country’s election is another country’s concern. Therefore, no matter if it’s America’s presidential election this November or Macedonia’s parliamentary election later this year, it’s important to be informed about elections on an international scale, and it’s especially important to register to vote, even if you need to go the route of absentee voting abroad. 

Studying abroad during an election year means you need to do more than just register to vote. There are a couple extra steps you need to take to make sure you can participate in voting abroad, starting with absentee voter registration. Just because you’re skipping out on life in the U.S. for a semester doesn’t mean you get to skip out on your civic duty!

Capitol building in Washington DC
Presidential elections in the U.S. mean you need to register to vote abroad.

So, why should you make the effort to vote from abroad? After all, you’re busy studying abroad, stuffing your days with learning and adventure. You should consider absentee voting because…

1. It’s a privilege that many people fought for.

Around the world, brave men and women have stood up and fought for their right to vote. From small groups of elites who influenced monarchs to full, universal suffrage, it has been a long, hard road (and a still ongoing one for many). In the United States, the founding fathers began the fight against “taxation without representation,”  but they left out women and people of color; it took fighters, like Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr., to clear a path for voting rights for all.

Voting is a privilege we cannot lightly give up, even when we’re abroad. 

2. Your vote still counts.

Sometimes it may feel like your vote doesn’t matter, especially when you’re so far away. But, your vote DOES matter; don’t let the fact that you’re miles away and feeling disconnected sway you to actually become disconnected! Voting, even while you’re studying abroad, is a pretty easy way to stay connected to your home country (see #6 below). In fact, absentee voting could be the surprise that sways the ultimate outcome of the election, as absentee voting has done in the past. You’d hate to miss out on being part of that wouldn’t you? 

3. It’s your civic duty.

Duty is an old fashioned word, isn’t it? That’s not something we really say any more. But for democracy to function, duty is something we have to remember. Civic duty, duty to our neighbor, to our towns and cities, to our country as a whole; our duty to be informed, kind, and helpful, but especially, our duty to vote. Democracy doesn’t work unless we vote! That duty doesn’t disappear just because we packed our bags and took off across the ocean. Okay, stop laughing. Yes, “duty” is a funny word, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have got to register to vote absentee and participate! 

sign pointing to polling place vote
It’s your civic duty– so get out there and vote.

4. Leslie Knope will kick your butt if you don’t.

And if Leslie Knope doesn’t, then her real life counterparts will, such as your government teacher, your politically active friends, or your family members that get a little too hyped up about politics around the dinner table. While you don’t have to join in those discussions over dessert, absentee voting might help your reputation as a smart, responsible adult. This is something all of your selfies frolicking around the world probably haven’t helped with (Hey! It’s not your fault that studying abroad is so much fun!).

5. You’re privileged just by being someone with the means to go abroad, and with great power comes great responsibility!

These days, studying abroad isn’t just for the very wealthy. Tons of affordable program options and scholarships have made it easier for more students to go abroad. However, traveling and studying abroad is still a privilege many can’t attain, whether because they don’t have a “powerful” passport or the financial means, because they have family responsibilities, or because they are undocumented.

As someone who has been so fortunate as to gain access to the amazing, life-changing opportunity of study abroad, please don’t let that good fortune lead you to forget your home country. You’ve been able to see how governments and civic society works in other places, and no matter how you feel about heading back home one day, you should still make use of your right and responsibility of enacting change on your home (hint: through voting abroad!). 

6. Stay connected to your home country.

Sometimes we get so immersed in our host country that we forget to stay connected to our home country! You’re busy learning a new language, making new friends, and maybe being involved in elections in your temporarily adopted, new “home.” But don’t forget your other home, even if you choose a nomadic life of travel the rest of your life! Your roots shape you and should not be forgotten. Taking part in voting overseas helps you stay connected in the best way possible: by being a voice in the grand establishment of democracy!

7. You have a reason to rejoice or complain.

For the next four or so years, depending on what elections you are voting abroad for, you can grumble when things don’t quite go the way you’d hoped, such as “if only YOUR candidate had won.” If your candidate did win and things seem to be on the up and up, you can give yourself a well-earned pat on the back! Either way, you can speak up knowing you had a stake in the election, that you made an informed decision, took time to vote from abroad, and played your part in American democracy. 

Polling station

8. It’s super easy!

It’s so simple to register for absentee voting abroad, there’s really no excuse. You just have to get all your ducks in a row. To vote in the American election, for example, you just need to find out the rules for your particular state, request an absentee ballot (paper or electronic), and then you’ve got it! Make sure not to wait too long; it might be easy to vote from abroad, but it can take time, especially if you’re studying abroad somewhere without consistent internet or mail service. 

Take advantage of the resources out there to help you register to vote and play your part this November through absentee voting. Here are a few of our favorites:

Whether you are voting abroad during the presidential election in the United States or for local elections in another country, voting is too important to forget in the whirlwind of studying abroad. Research your candidates and get those absentee ballots in!