Great Britain

'I don’t trust the American public’: US expats on casting their votes from UK

With just days to go until the US heads to the polls, Americans living in the UK are among the millions to have already cast their ballots in an election that has already proved to be hugely divisive even before the results are called.

Greg Swenson, a 58-year-old investment banker and member of Republicans Overseas, is voting in the “safe blue” state of Illinois and backing Donald Trump.

Mr Swenson, who lives in London, did not vote for the president in 2016, instead casting a write-in vote for Evan McMullin, a conservative candidate who ran on a platform that Mr Trump was unfit for office. 

He said he has swapped his vote after being “surprised” over how President Trump has governed: “We were definitely proven wrong, and he governed quite deliberately in quite a conservative way that was a great benefit to Americans.”

To stay up to date with the election cycle he said he follows conservative news networks, including Fox. “I think with technology the way it is, except for the timezone difference, it's not that different because you get the same sort of news, even if the news here is probably less balanced than in the US”, he said.

The United Kingdom is the third most popular destination for American expats after Mexico and Canada, with the State Department estimating approximately 224,000 Americans live in the UK.

According to the London School of Economics, voter turnout among American expats is as low as 12 per cent.

The rules around absentee ballots are made at a state level, which means they vary widely.

With some states now able to process ballots online, others require more complicated steps including multiple forms that have to be physically posted months before election day.

One American, registered in Mississippi, said this is the first time she has been able to vote from the UK — despite having lived here for more than 10 years.

Now living in the Midlands, the expat, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “When I first moved there weren't as many things digitally available, so it was almost impossible for me to register to vote without physically being in Mississippi.

“I needed to have a state ID and I needed to take it to the circuit clerk's office.”

However, technological advances mean for the first time she has been able to vote via email, and despite coming from a Republican “Bible belt” state and conservative family, she will be voting for Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

She said: “For me, it's about finding somebody that felt more stable, particularly when we are in the middle of a pandemic.

“So whether my family like it or not, I am voting for Biden.

“One thing that they will never admit to, but in Mississippi, it is always that white people vote Republican and black people vote Democratic.

“And when I grew up, that was the vision I had of the two parties until I made up my own mind about it.”

Being outside of the US, she said, had given her a different perspective on the campaigns: “I don't trust the American voting public. Seeing it from a distance, I feel like they have just lost the plot.”

Elizabeth, a dual British-American citizen living in France, said being an absentee voter for Mr Biden in New York state has been “less straightforward than sending a ballot to my old home state of Virginia”.

She said: “When I first sent my application for an overseas ballot to New York City, just sending the scanned version wasn't enough, they wanted the hard copy as well. So I had to send them the hard copy.”

Elizabeth was then emailed a ballot, which she printed out and posted back.

She said had she been living in a swing state she would have paid the cost to send it via FedEx, “But I couldn't justify the added expense since I'm voting in a deep blue state”.

Another expat, originally from California but now living in London, said: “I've actually never felt like an outsider because I've followed it so closely, even living in England.”

The writer, who asked to not be named, said: “With the media as it is, you can basically follow anything as closely as you want, you don't have to be anywhere in particular.”

Mary Ellen Wanty, a 59-year-old living in London, said: “I really do believe voting is my civic duty.”

A writer who moved to the UK in 1991 while working for Chase Manhattan Bank, Mrs Wanty is also voting for Mr Biden in New York.

According to Ipsos USA, there are fewer persuadable voters up for grabs compared to 2016, and the polarisation of politics has become more evident during the campaigns.

Mrs Wanty said: “The polarisation in the US right now is just horrible. Nobody wants to speak about politics, they're too scared.”

Her son Tom attends Duke University, so will be voting in North Carolina — a state where in 2016 there were just 173,315 votes between candidates.

The 22-year-old said: “It's an important state.

“People in my generation are just so sick of Trump after four years, and going into this election, we will do everything we can. Even if it's Biden who maybe isn't the best candidate to replace him, along a lot of Democrat thinking, but it's just like, 'anyone else will do'.”

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