Illustration by Mouad Kouttroub

Voting from Abroad: Why does my Voice Still Count?

If I’m so far removed from my country, does my voice really have any weight? Should it?

Mar 28, 2021

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school was having my parents drag me to the local fire station early in the morning so they could vote before dropping me off and going to work. I would stand in the long lines with them and watch with wonder as they pressed buttons in the voting booth, then walk into school wearing an “I Voted!” sticker that the volunteers were kind enough to give me.
I grew up dreaming about the day that I would be old enough to vote myself. I didn’t fully understand why voting was so important when I was young, but I could tell it was important to my parents. As I got older, I started to understand why voting was such an important way of using my voice as a U.S. citizen. I would listen to my parents talk about candidates at the kitchen table and sit with them while they watched the presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I thought it was interesting, but I did not really think about it too much because I was still too young to vote.
I finally had the chance to vote in my first election this year as a sophomore in college. But it did not happen the way I always dreamed it would. I woke up at 4:00 a.m. and watched all the debates live on YouTube alone in my room, feeling an overwhelming weight of responsibility to be informed and make the “right” choice when it came time to vote. There was no fire station, no ballot box, no “I Voted!” sticker. There was only a piece of paper that I scanned and submitted online as an absentee ballot.
Going through this whole process from abroad made it really difficult to feel like my voice mattered. I knew my vote would inevitably be counted, but that didn’t feel like my voice actually carried any weight. At the end of the day, I don’t live in the United States anymore. My parents moved to Italy in March of 2020. A lot of the political changes happening in the U.S. don’t directly affect me or my family. If I’m so far removed from my country, does my voice really have any weight? Should it?
In any election year, between 35 and 60 percent of eligible voters don’t vote in the United States. I used to judge people who chose not to vote when they had the chance. I could not understand how they would not take what I thought was such an important opportunity to use their voice. But with time, I have come to understand why some people choose not to vote. It is not just because of a lack of enthusiasm for the candidates or because they are too lazy to go to a polling center. Rather, it is about feeling like their vote is not significant enough to change anything, or reservations about the importance of voting.
I have not been back to the United States since Dec. 2019. The U.S. does not feel like home anymore. Now, for me, home is split between the UAE and Italy. But my voice has no weight in either of these places. At the same time, I don’t feel motivated to vote or follow U.S. politics because of distance and separation.
It’s also frustrating to feel like I’m wasting my vote when there are so many people in the United States who aren’t able to vote despite being directly affected everyday by politics. Why should I get a say in what happens in the country that I’m no longer an active part of? Voter suppression happens all the time in the U.S., from strict laws about identification to the closing of accessible polling places. There’s no reason why I should be able to scan a piece of paper and send it to my county clerk over email while others have to jump through endless hoops to make their voice be heard, if they can even qualify to vote.
I don’t know if my voice should still count in the United States. I’m still a U.S. citizen and the eighteen years of my life that I spent there definitively shaped who I am and what I believe in. I still care about my country and it hurts me to watch it struggle. But I also don’t know when, or if, I will ever go back to the U.S. I may spend the rest of my life as an expat, living with a passport from a country that I no longer view as home. I will continue to vote in U.S. elections because I understand that it’s my duty and right as a citizen, but I cannot help but feel that I don’t deserve it.
Grace Bechdol is Senior Communications & Social Media Editor. Email her at
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