An international group of activists concerned about the rise of Donald Trump is helping Americans abroad cast absentee ballots in the hope of helping to defeat the Republican nominee ― and they’re counting on Mexico to play an outsized role.
Avaaz, a global civic group with about 40 million members, launched a digital tool this month to help make it easier for Americans living outside the country’s borders to register to vote. It only takes a few minutes for users to enter their information and for the website to walk them through the registration process.
The State Department estimates that about 7.6 million U.S. citizens live outside the country ― a number larger than the populations of all but 12 U.S. states ― and that another 70 million travel abroad each year. Provided someone is eligible to vote back home, all they have to do to vote while abroad is request an absentee ballot. Voters can generally register and receive their ballots online, and many states also allow them to submit their votes electronically.
And yet, many people don’t bother.
Just 12 percent of American expat voters cast a ballot in the 2012 election, estimates a study published this year by the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford University. People serving in the military accounted for just over half of the absentee ballots requested, the study found.
Yet Avaaz views Americans abroad as a group large enough to swing the presidential election. The group believes most U.S.-born expats tilt toward the progressive side of the spectrum.
“There’s been a lot of appetite in our group for a while now to do something about Donald Trump, because he’s really seen as a global threat,” Emma Ruby-Sachs, the deputy director of Avaaz, told The Huffington Post. “There’s very little happening in the world that wouldn’t be affected by Donald Trump winning the presidency.”
The group campaigned in Mexico City last week to spread the word about the tool and get more Americans to use it.
Trump has repeatedly used America’s southern neighbor as a punching bag since launching his presidential campaign last year. But Avaaz notes that as many as 1 million American expats and migrants live in Mexico ― most of whom lean Democratic, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Eric Rojo-Stevens, who has been living in Mexico for the last four years, is helping Avaaz spread the word about the tool. He served as a voting officer who helped distribute and collect ballots during his military days ― when the process was more complicated and depended on snail mail ― and hopes the tool will push more Americans to carry out their civic duty.
“Voting is easy,” Rojo-Stevens said. “It just takes a few minutes. And it’s something we must do. Our future depends on who we elect.”
Though a lifelong Republican, Rojo-Stevens says he’ll probably cast a ballot for Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson on Nov. 8.
“Trump’s ignorant comments about Mexicanas and the wall, that’s an obvious turnoff,” Rojo-Stevens said. “Whatever he does to the U.S.-Mexico relationship is going to affect all Americans here. And there are many people who do business here.”
Anyone who wants to cast a vote from abroad should try to do so soon.
The federal government recommends that Americans living abroad “get in the habit” of registering by January. But many people who haven’t registered yet still have time ― most states’ deadlines to register and request an absentee ballots fall this month.