After watching the Republican and Democratic party conventions this week, I’m glad that I haven’t given up my right to vote in U.S. federal elections. This election is too important for the whole world.
But, in the last six years, many American citizens living abroad gave up their right to vote in order to avoid filing U.S. tax returns. That’s unfortunate because every vote counts, especially in close races.
In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA). It’s a requirement for U.S. citizens living abroad to file yearly reports on their non-U.S. financial accounts. The intent was to impede tax cheats and money launderers, and apprehend them.
Law abiding, ordinary middle-income Americans living abroad were never the target of FACTA. It was aimed at wealthy people who hide untaxed earnings in offshore accounts. But it caused considerable inconvenience for every citizen living outside the country, and for some an extra expense.
For that reason, many Americans living in Canada gave up their U.S. citizenship. And with it, their right to vote.
I moved to Canada in 1973 and continue to maintain my dual citizenship. It’s not fun, or easy, to file a U.S. tax return every year. It’s easier to hire a professional accountant to do the work, but not everyone living abroad can afford to do that.
The alternative — revoking my U.S. citizenship and my right to vote — has never appealed to me. A democracy depends on citizen engagement. Of all the avenues open to individuals in a free society to influence the direction of their government, voting is the most important.
Congress has often rectified the unintended consequences of legislation to unburden innocent victims. I hope it will create such a safe harbor from FACTA reporting.
But I’m not holding my breath. Three years ago, the current U.S. Supreme Court ripped a key provision from the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had banned voter suppression tactics used against the poor and mostly African-Americans in the South. That has recently encouraged conservative states to pass new laws that discourage people from voting.
Because most U.S. citizens living abroad lean Democratic, a Republican-controlled Congress may keep FACTA in place.
In the meantime, I’m not sitting out the 2016 U.S. federal elections. I’m registered to vote in Pierce County, Washington, and can’t wait to mark my ballot for Hillary Clinton and my friend U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer.
The stakes are too high this time. Not only is there a clear choice between Hillary and Drumpf on the issues, and on mental stability, but the next president will also shape the U.S. Supreme Court for future generations.
Either Hillary or Drumpf will nominate at least one and probably two new justices, and so determine the future of money and politics (whether Citizens United stands), the reach of the Voting Rights Act, civil rights (LGBTQ issues), women’s reproductive freedom, religious liberty (Hobby Lobby, etc.), defining the Second Amendment in relation to gun violence, and other important issues.
After listening to speeches at both conventions, I’m more convinced than ever that retaining my right to vote was the correct choice.
George Le Masurier, a Comox Valley resident, has lived in Canada since 1973. He is a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada and has faithfully filed his U.S. tax returns.