‘I’m abroad and unsure how to register.’ Low Voting Trend of American Students Abroad Continues in this Year’s Midterm Elections 


By Josephine Solomon / News Reporter || Edited by Amber Alexander

Student searching through the VFA website.

ROME – JCU continues its collaboration with Vote From Abroad (VFA) to facilitate student voting for the U.S. midterm elections this fall. In past elections, only 10% of American abroad students registered to vote, according to VFA.

A VFA booth for students was placed in the Tiber campus for two days to learn how to register online.  

“I went to the booth immediately when I saw it, because I realized I did not register to vote back at home,” said Mari Snider, a first-year Northeastern Journalism student from Pennsylvania.  

“They made it very easy to register, and I feel as though I have helped make a change,” said Snider. “Especially with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, I felt it was a necessity for all the women in my life, including myself, [to vote].”  

A survey conducted for this news story to 120 eligible voters who attend Northeastern at JCU demonstrated that a total of 40 out of 50 respondents said they are registered to vote.  

Ariana Damaske, the Assistant Dean of Students at JCU, said JCU’s values and goals are to encourage not just Americans, but every student to vote in their countries’ elections. JCU sent emails and put out fliers to get the message out about the importance of voting.  

Damaske said she thinks the reason why it is so important for college students to vote is because they will be leading the country in the future. One possible reason behind a low percentage of abroad students voting, according to Damaske, is because elections may not be the focus when abroad.  

Students may be more concerned about safety and security while away from home, said Damaske. Additionally, the years of presidential elections are more prominent in the news, so since it was midterms this year, they were not as talked about.  

Results from survey of Northeastern University students at JCU. 

Those who answered “no” to being registered to vote in the survey were given the option to answer why.  

  • “I’m abroad and am unsure how to register,” one respondent stated.  
  • “I missed the deadline the first time and never got a chance to register,” was another response. 
  • A respondent said why it’s important to vote: “Because it allows you to keep in check the people in power.”  
  • “It’s important, because I think every vote counts and I believe everyone should have a voice and a say in what occurs in our country,” another answered. 

The general survey responses show that students may want to vote, but are not given proper resources or time, which may be why the average number of votes from abroad is so low.  

VFA is a non-partisan tool welcomed on college campuses to make voting access easier for Americans abroad. During the election cycles, VFA reaches out to American schools abroad to request access to help students vote. JCU began cooperating with VFA between 2004 and 2006. 

“As an academic institution, we must keep a non-partisan approach,” said Damaske. 

Kelly Feenan, the co-secretary of the southern Italy chapter with VFA, was a volunteer at the booth at JCU and helped students with registration and questions. 

Screenshot of VFA Instagram (@votefromabroad). 

Feenan said VFA aimed to have 30 percent of abroad students registered for this year’s election, equivalent to 2 million votes, which is more than the population of 13 states. 

A report done by The Federal Voting Assistance Program found that 69% of those who were not registered to vote when abroad stated that it was practical issues that stood in the way.  

Most Americans say it’s very important to vote to be a good member of society, in a Pew Research survey last month. Regarding voter turnout, continuous patterns of which demographics vote and which do not exist. young voters vote less than their elders.  

According to a study by the New York Times, some reasons why there is a gap for young voters are the lack of habit formation and an increase in alternative political advocacy, such as protests.

As the results of the election become clearer, Republicans have won the House and Senate, but Democrats still fended off the “red wave.”  

To help U.S. citizens understand the results of the election on Nov. 9, JCU hosted a forum on the U.S. midterm election led by Pamela Harris, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Law and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. 

“Voters came from all different walks of life,” answered Harris in the panel about why there was a significant turnout of people who voted in-state, specifically in Michigan.

Voting in the United States 

The U.S. midterm elections focus on electing which party is in control of the House and Senate at the midway point of a president’s term. At this time, voters focus more on specific issues and which representative embodies their opinions. The main issues in-play during this year’s elections were abortion rights, climate change, marijuana decimalization, racial injustice, inflation, gun violence, and immigration.  

VFA was developed and is still supported by Democrats Abroad (DA) under the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and has chapters in 190 countries, with its headquarters in Washington. This arm of the Democratic Party is organized in three regions: the Americas, Asia and Pacific Europe, the Middle East and Africa.   

VFA was created with the purpose of completing the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) for  “absent Uniform Service members, their families, and citizens residing outside the U.S. only.” FPCA was created under the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 1986 (UOCAVA), which helps with the access to voting for Americans abroad.  

According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), states must mail ballots to U.S. citizens who have applied to vote overseas by mail 45 days before the election, and states must provide U.S. citizens abroad to receive their ballots in a timely manner, which is why last-minute voting is impossible for abroad students. 

Voting, however, has not always been easily accessible to Americans abroad. Fortunately, laws such as the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act of 1975 “requires that the states and territories allow certain groups of citizens to register and vote absentee in elections for Federal offices.”  

Subsequently, the Help America Vote Act of 2001 and MOVE Act of 2005 removed barriers to overseas voters. Currently, 39 states allow citizens to vote absentee even if they are not living in the U.S.