11 ways U.S. expats can help rock the midterms

By Meghan Feeks

It ain’t easy being “blue” these days, but things are definitely looking up. Special and state elections have brought Democrats to power in key states, and the latest polls have Democrats holding a double-digit lead over Republicans for the 2018 midterms.

Also encouraging, a record number of women (mostly Democrats) are running for Congress this year — more than twice as many as in 2016. And having turned out in force to flip GOP seats in recent elections, women are also taking the lead in grassroots movements around the country to engage voters, promote progressive candidates and turn anger into impact when we go to the polls this November.

These gains feel good after more than a year of hard knocks. But with the midterms still several months off, Democrats still have much at stake, and nothing must be taken for granted. The good news is there’s a lot that the 9 million US expats who make up the “51st state” can do to make a difference when America votes this fall. Here are 11 ways we can help:

  1.      Vote — and make sure you register to vote in time. This should be obvious, but the sad fact is, only 12% of Americans abroad vote in presidential elections and even fewer in midterm, state and local elections. Fortunately, it’s now possible for all US citizens to obtain and in many cases submit absentee ballots electronically. But this is important: you need to request one every year. Just because you voted in the 2016 general election, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get your ballot in 2017 and beyond. To register to vote in 2018 online, visit VoteFromAbroad.org, or access the site through the ‘vote’ menu on the Democrats Abroad website. For more information on voting from overseas, including links to helpful resources, see the State Department’s handy guide.
  2.      Help register fellow expats to vote. Once again, Democrats Abroad is planning voter registration events around the world, but relies on volunteers to give voters the information they need to obtain and submit their ballots. To learn more about becoming a voter registration volunteer, click here or contact your local chapter of Democrats Abroad.
  3.      Vote in the 2018 Democratic primaries. As a registered Democrat, you’re entitled to vote in House and Senate primaries, which will unfold over the coming months. This is a great opportunity to advance Democratic candidates that support your values and have a positive vision for the party’s future. To get the 411 on primaries in the state where you’re registered to vote, check out this overview on Ballotpedia.org.
  4.      Support Democratic candidates in key national races. This fall, candidates will compete for all 435 seats in the House and 34 seats in the Senate (23 of which are currently held by Democrats). All these contests are important, and no seat should be considered “safe.” However, the battle for control of Congress will likely boil down to a few key races in the House and Senate. Support Democratic candidates in these elections, regardless of where you’re registered to vote. Visit EMILY’s List to learn more about pro-choice, female candidates, or if you prefer to stick closer to your hometown, visit SwingLeft.org to find nearby swing districts that need your help most. Pro tip: to maximize your donation’s impact, contribute directly to your favorite candidate’s campaign, rather than through party organizations that support them (Senator Kirsten Gillibrand shared this nugget at a recent fundraiser in London, noting that individual candidates can take out ads for half of what, say, the DCCC would pay).
  5.      Don’t forget state and local elections. Down-ballot, state and local elections may not sound that sexy, but taking a lead from the Tea Party, progressive, grassroots movements are increasingly targeting them to make America bluer from the bottom up. Many states allow US expats to vote in these contests, but even if yours doesn’t, there are still ways you can help. To learn more, check out the Sister District Project, Flippable.org, RunForSomething.net and Indivisible.org. To connect with fellow expats from your state, join a Facebook State Group here.
  6.      Ensure all voices are heard. Last year’s elections were good not just for Democrats, but also for diversity: around the country, women, people of color and LGBTQ candidates became the first to win elections in their respective contests. Help our party represent the interests of all its members by supporting candidates with diverse and intersectional profiles.  Click on the links here to learn more about black women, Muslim women, Latinas, Native Americans, LGBTQ candidates and other people of color who are running for office in 2018.
  7.      Engage with voters. So we can’t go from door-to-door, but there are still lots of ways we can engage voters from afar. Volunteer to phone-bank for Democratic candidates, either directly or through grassroots organizations that support them. Postcard campaigns through PostcardsToVoters.org are another cool and quirky way to connect with fellow Democrats and encourage them to vote. Get your American expat friends on board to have more fun, increase your impact and hold each other accountable.
  8.       Organize or attend a political fundraiser or “action party.” US expats can independently organize political fundraisers or “action parties” to support specific candidates and Democratic organizations. Contact your favorite candidate to coordinate a house party with a video or Skype link, and circulate the appropriate contribution link and compliance form. Note that all expenses must be reported and contributions can only be received from US citizens or permanent residents (it’s the law). For those who wish to contribute their time and energy (either instead of or in addition to a financial donation), set a clear call to action. To stay informed about fundraisers being held in your country, join the Americans Abroad Facebook Group and keep an eye on your local Democrats Abroad newsletter. To hear from Democratic candidates and politicians directly (and at Europe-friendly times), sign up for the fantastic phone-call series organized by fellow expat Mark Bergman.
  9.      Stand for something. Anger with the Trump administration may get people to the polls, but it’s no substitute for a long-term strategy. Call on Democratic officials and candidates to define a clear and positive vision for the party and set concrete policy goals to support it. Do your part to promote this vision in your families, communities and social networks. For every expression of outrage you see or share on social media, post something positive that points to a solution.
  10.  Take action to improve election security and combat fake news. The midterms are under serious threat of foreign interference, but — surprise, surprise — the Trump administration is doing nothing about it. Call on Congress to pass the Election Security Act and demand to know what your elected officials are doing to secure elections in your district. Be on alert for fake news and call out misinformation when you see it. Equally important, support real news by buying a subscription to a reputable news source. Established, big-name outlets such as the Washington Post are always a good bet, but don’t forget about cash-strapped local papers, which play a critical role in holding local governments accountable.
  11.  Share your international perspectives. As an American living abroad, you have a unique point of view. Talk to friends and family members in the US about how the country you live in approaches issues such as healthcare, education, reproductive rights, gun control and family leave. Discuss the implications of US policies outside its borders and how the Trump administration is affecting America’s image in the world. To spread the word further, consider sharing these thoughts in an op-ed in your hometown or college newspaper.  

The midterms are a critical milestone that require our laser focus, but there are plenty of other things US expats can do every day to support our democracy — and they needn’t take much time! For more ideas, sign up for Democrats Abroad’s “Tiny Actions” newsletter, or check out the HuffPost article I wrote on the subject last year. Have more ideas on how to rock the midterms and stay politically active from overseas? Please share in the comments!

Meghan Feeks 

Meghan Feeks is living in London and loving it, but always a New Yorker at heart. Communicator by day, writer by night, tango dancer by midnight.

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