Hanging on by a Chad

When U.S. citizens living abroad receive their absentee ballots for this November’s presidential election, they’ll read a challenging question: “I am a U.S. Citizen, residing outside the U.S., and… ”

Either “… I intend to return”, or “… I do not intend to return”.

How many of us expats can decisively choose one or the other?

“I very frankly have no idea which of those two boxes to check,” as Lucy Stensland Laederich of the Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas in Paris told the The New York Times, “because I do not ‘intend’ to return nor do I ‘not intend’ to return.”

The 2005 ballot posed, “I am a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S… ” followed by either “temporarily” or “indefinitely”.

The new wording is a part of a revised ballot drafted in 2011 by the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) to differentiate between voters who receive a state ballot, or just the federal ballot electing President, Vice President, and members of Congress.

Concerns have abounded that checking “I do not intend to return” amounted to a renunciation of citizenship, or admission of a tax liability. In response FVAP has scrambled to provide transparent documentation on their website, assuring voters that they retain their citizenship, and that the new wording will not expose them to new taxes. (The new taxes are FATCA’s job.)

The rewording also helps clarify the voter’s intent, a deciding factor for issuing a ballot in several states like Illinois and Texas. (Intent… do I again see more hanging chads on the horizon?)

Election results aside, perhaps the 2011 ballots – they are too late to change but will purportedly be written again by 2015 – challenge us expats to consider the question on a personal level.

Do we intend to return? Only the chads will tell.

– CA

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