Americans Helping Americans Abroad

When AARO was founded in 1973, Americans living abroad without a residence in the United States did not have the right to vote in US elections.

In 1975, two members of the AARO board, Phyllis Michaux and Sonja Minçbère, thought up what would become the “teabag campaign”, which was ultimately picked up by scores of American organizations around the world.

In response to the floods of teabags being sent to Washington with a cover letter urging support for two bills, Congress passed the needed legislation and on January 2, 1976, President Ford signed the law giving overseas Americans the right to vote.

Since then, AARO has worked with its partner organizations and with Congress to improve voting legislation and expand voting rights for the overseas community.

Today, thanks to sophisticated technology, it is easier than ever for overseas voters to exercise their rights, but organizations like AARO have to – and do - remain watchful. The Federal Voting Assistance Program has estimated that overseas citizens represent over 3% of the total vote, and we all know that elections can be won by far less than that!

Taking Aim at the Election Assistance Commission

At precisely the time when we are seeing multiple threats take shape against US election systems, whether in the form of hacking by foreign or domestic agents or of newly created constraints that limit access to the polls in one way or another, the one agency established to protect the integrity of those same systems is once again – this time seriously – in danger.

An appropriations bill recently introduced in the 2017 budget process would eliminate funding for the Commission and give it 60 days to terminate itself. This is in keeping with a bill introduced earlier this year to close down the EAC, strongly opposed by many voting advocates including the League of Women Voters. According to the author of a Democratic amendment to the recent appropriations bill, closing down the Commission would mark a step backward for the country.

Since the Commission was created in 2002, AARO has worked with it and looked to it for expertise. For a number of years, we have advocated continued funding of the EAC, recognizing the crucial importance of the testing it oversees, the guidelines it puts forward, the analysis of voting systems it provides, and the authority with which it monitors processes around the country – including for overseas voting – and promotes better practices.

The EAC has no real power, as such, but it serves as an authoritative expert and a conscience, at a time when both are desperately needed.

David Becker, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research and formerly Director of the elections program at The Pew Charitable Trusts, says the agency has been “extremely active’ on recent threats and if it is eliminated, “The happiest people out there would be the hackers.’

We strongly urge our members to write or call their Congresspersons in defense of continued funding of the Election Assistance Commission and recognition of the key role it plays – and must continue to play – in ensuring the protection and integrity of election systems around the country. Representatives’ contact information can be found at

"Act II" of the MOVE Act

The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act was signed into law in October 2009.  It was landmark election reform legislation for which AARO and its partner organizations advocated actively, and represented great progress for overseas voters, among others.  MOVE modernized voting methods and ensured greater reliability and security in the overseas voting process while vastly expanding the use of electronic voter information and ballot delivery.

Nonetheless, improvements still need to be made.  Despite guaranteed deadlines for mailing out ballots and increased options for online blank ballot delivery, the Federal Voting Assistance Program reports that voter participation abroad remains unacceptably low.

AARO’s longstanding partner US Vote and its Overseas Vote initiative (formerly Overseas Vote Foundation) are calling for a new round of overseas and military voting reforms which AARO is proud to support.  In particular, “Act II of the Move Act” would provide for:

  1. Automatic registration for military voters
  2. “Permanent” status option for Qualified Overseas Voters
  3. Single, Simultaneous, Uniform, Federal Overseas Voter Registration + Ballot Request + Ballot Package
  4. State Department to Inform Overseas Citizens of Voting Rights
  5. Uniform election dates and deadlines

These points will form the basis of the “Voting reform” position paper that AARO will take to Washington in March and April of this year, urging legislators to enact these further, much-needed reforms.

The election is over? Think again!!

According to the MOVE Act of 2010, military and overseas voters must now request their ballots every year, even if we think there will be no election during the year (but resignations and deaths do happen!). Remember that several nominees for the new cabinet are currently serving in Congress and will have to be replaced….

It’s a good idea to mark January 2 of every year as the day to register and request your overseas ballot. It has become easier and easier over the years to do so and there are many online options, so if you have not yet done so, request your ballot now!

In addition to the “official” government (Federal Voting Assistance Program) site at, AARO recommends the secure, advanced technology and election information available from our non-partisan partner organization Overseas Vote Foundation.

Register and/or request your ballot now (don’t get caught empty-handed or watch an election deadline go by as you say…. “Ooops!”).

AARO Presidential Debate Report

*Please note that this is a summary of the debate, and the panelists’ responses may be edited or slightly summarized for clarity. For a video recording of the event, please click here.

The room at Reid Hall was packed on Wednesday, October 19th for AARO’s Presidential Debate. AARO President Neil Kearney introduced the panel: Joe Smallhoover, representing Democrats Abroad; Ned Wiley representing Libertarians Abroad; and George Yates for Republicans Overseas.

Lucy Laederich of the AARO board took a moment to discuss the importance of voting for our organization. It was one of the first issues that the organization took on, and AARO remains an advocate for overseas voting, partnering notably with the Overseas Vote Foundation to inform and aid voters residing abroad. Lucy also mentioned the possibility of voting using a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) for those who had registered as absentee voters but who had not yet received their ballots.

Before taking questions, written in by the audience and read out by AARO’s moderators, each panel member was given five minutes to give an opening statement. Going in alphabetical order, Joe Smallhoover began. He started by quoting from the Arizona Republic newspaper’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton: “The challenges the United States faces domestically and internationally demand a steady hand, a cool head and the ability to think carefully before acting. Hillary Clinton understands this. Donald Trump does not. Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.” He defended her as a candidate that favored economic progress for everyone, and as an outspoken champions for women and children and minorities who understands politics as an art of compromise and supports change by small steps rather than radical change. He noted that she had won the endorsements of all major newspapers, including many who only rarely publish endorsements, and that all five living presidents endorse her. He argued that Clinton outshines the other candidates in terms of her positions on economic, environmental, reproductive, gender equality, etc. issues. Smallhoover concluded by saying that we do not live in the dark, dystopian times as presented by Donald Trump, though we are in need of a great leader, and Hillary Clinton would be that person.

Ned Wiley began by discussing Gary Johnson’s absence from the Presidential debates in the United States, due to the Commission on Presidential Debates’ regulations directed by the two major American political parties. He noted that Johnson is on the ballot in all states, but has not been allowed to participate in the Presidential debates. He described his own path to supporting Gary Johnson, born in part from his opposition to Donald Trump. This echoes history: the Libertarian party was first formed by Republicans who opposed the nomination of Richard Nixon. He noted than many Republicans (such as two thirds of the Harvard Republicans) do not support Donald Trump, and many of them support Gary Johnson. Wiley supports the Libertarian platform of being socially liberal and fiscally conservative, believing that government should not incur debt that would burden future generations by cutting spending, not raising taxes.

George Yates began by thanking AARO for fighting for rights of Americans living abroad – work that really needs to be done, since Americans abroad are mistreated. We are taxed, criticized, not heard, he said. He continued by reading a paragraph from the Liberty and Privacy section of the Republican platform: “The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Foreign Bank and Asset Reporting Requirements result in government’s warrantless seizure of personal financial information without reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Americans overseas should enjoy the same rights as Americans residing in the United States, whose private financial information is not subject to disclosure to the government except as to interest earned. The requirement for all banks around the world to provide detailed information to the IRS about American account holders outside the United States has resulted in banks refusing service to them. Thus, FATCA not only allows “unreasonable search and seizures” but also threatens the ability of overseas Americans to lead normal lives.”

George Yates said he didn’t think he’d see the day when a major party would take this position. He noted that the people sitting in the audience probably had more to do with the GOP taking this position than Trump himself, but thinks Trump would follow through on this. He hopes it will continue to be on Republican platforms, and also hopes the Democrats will follow. The fact that Americans are taxed because of citizenship is a disaster, he said, sharing that a family member had to give up her US citizenship because of the burden. Yates said he supports AARO for the positions they’ve taken, and feels proud that the Republicans have taken up these issues.

He finished by saying he has been horrified that the election has been so much about personal issues, feeling that it has been a waste of a huge opportunity to discuss more important issues. Yates said that Clinton has a lot of experience, yet the experience is not all that good. He is disturbed by the question of her judgment, citing the examples of her email server and the Clinton foundation. Experience is a great thing, he said, but judgment is more important. 

Neil Kearney began the question and answer part of the debate by first posing a question from AARO: What would your organization do to help Americans abroad?

Joe Smallhoover (JS): Democrats Abroad have been favorable to returning to residency-based taxation (RBT) and repealing citizenship-based taxation (CBT). On the issue of FATCA, he noted that if Republicans were serious about repealing this law, they would have done so. They have controlled congress for 6 years. Republicans have chosen FATCA as issue to divide American community abroad.

Was adopted to fight terrorism and illegal activity, but legislation was too broad. Dems believe we should reform FATCA to keep fighting illegal activity, while relieving the burden on AA.

Ned Wiley (NW): He stated that this is an important issue to him personally. He said it is not an issue at the top of the Libertarian agenda, but he himself signed on to the Libertarian party for this reason, to promote this sort of issue. Libertarian principles would support position of repealing FATCA and moving to RBT.

JS: The Democratic national platform does not address taxation, and calls for FATCA reform.

George Yates (GY): He polled the audience, asking who considers themselves a “fat cat”. No one raised a hand. He said this is an illustration of the problem with this law: it’s meant to reduce criminality, but only traps ordinary people into filling out forms that actual criminals do not care about.

Questions From the Audience

Q: How would your candidate handle Putin on Syria?

JS: Democrats Abroad does not speak on questions of foreign policy. This is because our foreign friends sometimes misunderstand our politics, and we do not wish to create incidents.

NW: Libertarians have not put forth specific foreign policies. But, he says, Putin is a bully. He’s in a position where he has to keep doing what he’s doing to survive politically, and Wiley is afraid he might do something weird in the last weeks of the campaign. Mistakes have been made in Syria, and now it’s too late for many of the tactics the United States have attempted. The no-fly zone failed. We could try sanctions, though a lot of people are against them. In any case, we have to find a way to make Putin back off.

GY: Putin is not to be trusted, and he is not someone to be fooled around with either. Obama has been a bit naïve about certain foreign leaders, including Putin, basing foreign policy on the principle of: if you treat people nicely, they’ll treat you nicely. Obama could have been tougher. I don’t know what will happen if either candidate is elected, but I think we have to be tough.

Q: Why do you think the political class has failed to anticipate the economic problems caused by globalization, computerization, and immigration?

GY: Globalization is inevitable. Congress can’t legislate everything, and they can’t stop globalization. It’s going to happen in any case, and I do feel for the many people who have been hurt by it. This issue has been part of this campaign, and the Republican campaign has called attention to the people who have suffered from this.

It would be costly to try to remedy the effects of these changes. It’s a disaster, but it’s a personal disaster, and this explains some of the currents we’ve seen in this election.

NW: All three of these issues are big ones. Libertarian principles involve keeping federal government out of things as much as possible. But, the federal government has to necessarily be involved in issues like immigration, which also relates to digitization. Silicon Valley has many bright Asian workers coming over, and we should protect the right of companies to hire the best. In many instances, we assign roles to the federal government where they just won’t be effective.

JS: These are extraordinarily complex issues. Clinton supports fair trade rather than free trade, taking into account the effect on local populations. Fair trade raises questions about how to deal with workers who are cut out of new parts of the economy and how to move forward. There should be some limitation on trade. Clinton supports increasing the minimum wage in US and elsewhere to prevent loss of jobs in the US, so that jobs go where the workers are best. We should also move quickly to adopt policy that enables hardworking immigrants in the US to become legal.

Q: What persuades you that Trump’s judgment is good?

GY: I know that Hillary Clinton has bad judgment and I don’t know about Donald Trump’s.

JS: Donald Trump managed to bankrupt a casino and to lose a billion dollars. He was dumb enough to say the things he said on the Billy Bush tape. This may have been pure talk, but what kind of judgment is on display when you say that kind of thing in a studio with a mic? Trump has shown bad judgement for years.

NW: Trump qualifies as a wacko. He judges everything differently from one moment to the next and is hard to pin down. We could cite his relationship with Putin as an example, but the list is endless. I don’t think this means that Hillary Clinton is an example of virtue, especially looking at issues like the TPP.

Q: How would your candidate save the planet?

NW: Gary Johnson made a famous comment that in millions of years we’ll all be burned up anyway. But more seriously, there are technological developments happening all the time. There was no commission on moving from firewood to coal. Government involvement turns things into a big mess. We need to put our focus on new technologies without government regulation on things like energy policy and the price of energy.

GY: Everybody is aware that the climate is changing and something has to be done. I agree that it’s hard to legislate this, and I think the Germans were misguided in trying to get rid of nuclear power. This is probably the least polluting type of energy we have today. Germany was upset about what happened in Japan, and the anti-nuclear policy was in reaction to the Fukushima disaster. This is what happens when legislators start to carry the ball.

JS: We couldn’t disagree more. Climate change is happening by human endeavor. We have to stop it or we will suffer consequences. Sea levels are rising, and we’ll continue to see more mega storms. Free market policies alone will not provide the solutions to these problems, and by prohibiting certain substances like fluorocarbons and by using things like tax incentives we are able to prohibit certain things and encourage others. Clinton and the Democratic Party support moving toward green energy sources. Germany has more solar plants than the US. We need solar, wind, and other sources that will help clean up the environment. This brings up the issue of individuals working in industries such as coal, and we will need to find a way to retrain to bring them into a more modern economy.

NW: Tax incentives don’t work well. To take the example of Germany, all the wind power is in the North, which is not where it’s needed most. When government starts messing with these things, it creates a mess. The solution of the federal government regulating these problems doesn’t work.

Q: Young voters seem to have lost trust in career politicians. Does honesty and transparency exist in politics? What is your candidate’s position on Citizens United?

GY: Trump has said that the American electoral system has some deep flaws, and some of it is this flood of money. Trump’s campaign has more money coming in from small donations than the Democratic campaign. The system is rotten, and something needs to be done, but it’s hard because of the free speech aspect of this issue. Americans should be able to support their candidate financially. Anyway, neither party has much interest in solving this issue.

JS: Citizens United was wrongly decided but it was decided. The solution would be a constitutional amendment that would limit the amount of money that can be given to campaigns. This has been part of Hillary Clinton’s campaign from the beginning.

NW: There is a concentration of power in the federal government, which makes it tempting to have influence. If we eliminate the ability of the federal government to have that kind of power, people will be less interested in gaining influence.

Q: Is Donald Trump a Republican?

GY: A Republican isn’t something that can be put into a fixed box. He has Republican principles, as well as some Libertarian principles.

JS: If Trump is a Republican, then the Republican party is not Republican. This is not the party of my grandfather, my husband, the George Yates I knew a few weeks ago. If Trump is Republican, it means the party is changing in fundamental ways. This may be a shift in the party system: we may see a major shuffling of the cards of the system as we know it.

GY: That may be true. But I’ve been happy to see Trump talking about issues that Republicans don’t traditionally address, such as the inner cities. They are a disaster; people get shot every day. Obama could have done more to resolve these issues. This is the first time Republicans are talking about this, and it’s a good thing. They are defending the little people. A shift in Republican politics would be a positive thing.

NW: It’s unsure. Trump has said many different things. This is why I call him a wacko. If Hillary Clinton wins, it will be a disaster for the Republicans. “Never Trumpers” will say I told you so, and Trump supporters will say that the others betrayed them. The results will certainly cause some movement.

Q: Should we get rid of the primary system?

NW: I’m not sure about the primary system, but we should probably get rid of the electoral college. We should get rid of lots of things in the federal government.

JS: What is the primary system? There is none. Every election cycle is new and different. There wasn’t a primary system until 1960, and it has evolved. It is run differently in different states. Some are open and some aren’t. But we could change the electoral system. We could rank candidates, so if no one gets majority, we could go with second choice. We could also do away with districts. There are many possibilities. But there isn’t really an official primary system to get rid of.

GY: I’ll just say this: the French eventually pick up others’ bad habits.

And should we get rid of the Electoral College?

GY: The Republicans stand by it, even though it’s not always beneficial to our party. It would be difficult to change something so fundamental. The primary system is complicated and easy to manipulate. We should think seriously about getting rid of it. But, many people have their hands on it, so it’s not simple.

Q: To what extent will Hillary Clinton implement Bernie Sanders’ ideas?

JS: A number of Sanders’ ideas were integrated into Democratic platform, such as the increase of the federal minimum wage. The party also partly adopted his views on reforming Obamacare toward a single payer system. I can also cite the examples of the environment, and partial legalization of marijuana. But Clinton won the nomination, and she will ultimately be Clinton and not Sanders.

Q: To what extent is the protest vote important for all three parties?

GY: This is an election where the majority of voters are voting against someone. It’s extraordinary. I’ve never seen an election where there is so much discontent: people voting for one candidate because they can’t stand the other. But there is lots of enthusiasm among Trump supporters, more than among Clinton supporters. Young people don’t feel they have a candidate they can be excited about.

JS: There are people who are voting against somebody. The pro-Sanders vote was partially against Clinton, but now voters are mainly voting for her because they feel she is the best choice. Some will vote for Johnson against the other two. For Democrats, this effect is not that important. Clinton has solid support among women, Latinos, Black Americans, college educated Americans, etc.

NW: I’m skeptical about claim of enthusiastic support among these groups. I wish  Johnson had been on stage with other two candidates, since this would have made the debates more interesting.

Q: Any plans to revive DREAM Act?

JS: The DREAM Act had massive support among Democrats and some Republicans. If Clinton is elected, the act will be put forward once again. It’s essential for children who were brought into US outside of their control to be integrated and to have the possibility of becoming citizens.

NW: I’m not sure about the party’s specific position on this act. Libertarians are favorable toward immigration when there is a need. I think that programs to support the integration of people already successfully part of American society would have Libertarian support. I have no comment about DREAM Act specifically.

GY: I also can’t comment specifically. Personally, I feel that immigration is a very good thing, which has made the US what it is today. One of the benefits of WWII was the immigration to the US of a fantastic group of people who have helped make the country what it is. It is an enrichment.

And, I do not think we should punish children for what their parents did. Children deserve an education.

Closing Statements

JS: To quote again from the Arizona Republic: “The challenges the United States faces domestically and internationally demand a steady hand, a cool head and the ability to think carefully before acting. Hillary Clinton understands this. Donald Trump does not. Clinton has the temperament and experience to be president. Donald Trump does not.”

NW: We have only a few days, and it feels like this election has taken an eternity. Neither candidate has covered themselves in glory. Neither has generated widespread, genuine support. This epitomizes negative stereotypes about American elections. Sometimes, you have to go down to come back up. I feel a sense of hope after joining the Libertarians. We probably won’t win, but I feel we have made a positive contribution to the political discourse.

GY: Many Americans find fault with two major candidates, which is reflected in the polls. Many people will vote against somebody. As Americans, we have to learn from this. Some modifications probably need to be made to the system. My hope is that the next cycle will be more politically interesting.

VIDEO: AARO Presidential Debate (AARO members only)

On October 19, AARO hosted a debate with an insider perspective on the 2016 presidential election and where the parties would like to have us go in the next four years.

Featuring Joe Smallhoover* (Democrat), Ned Wiley** (Libertarian) and George Yates*** (Republican) who debated each other and answered questions from the audience.

* Joe has served as International Chair and International Counsel for Democrats Abroad and as Chair of Democrats Abroad France. He was elected to represent Democrats Abroad on the Democratic National Convention Platform Committee 2016. Joe has practiced corporate, banking and financial, and commercial law in France and Germany for over 30 years.

** Ned is an independent media and technology consultant based in Berlin, Germany. He is credited, as Procter and Gamble’s first European Brand Manager, for introducing Italian television audiences to the soap opera over thirty years ago. Ned is the co-author of “The Impossible Advantage - Winning The Competitive Game By Changing The Rules”. He is currently in the process of founding a new organization: Libertarians Abroad.

*** George is a Franco-American lawyer practicing with his own firm of Yates Avocat in Paris and Lisbon. He has lived and worked in France and the UK for some 25 years and is a long-time political observer and activist in Republican Party politics in the US and Europe. He is a former Chair of Republicans Abroad France.


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