Image of the first continental congress

Representation for U.S. Expats

U.S. Expats Need Congressional Representation

“Taxation without representation” was one of the thoughts at the forefront of the American experiment. The Times (UK) just published an article [subscription required] suggesting that the UK’s Liberal Democrats are proposing that British expats have their own seats in Parliament.

At the time of this writing, I can’t find any other sources to corroborate that story, but whether it ultimately is true or not, and whether or not such a change actually comes to pass in the U.K., it does raise an interesting point.

While there are apparently no hard figures on the matter (which in-and-of-itself is a little baffling, as expats are required to file tax returns), the U.S. State Department estimates that there are between 3 and 6 million Americans living abroad. To put that in context, that means the U.S. expat population at a minimum is equivalent to this

A map of the U.S. with North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Vermont highlighted

U.S. States with total population of c. 3,000,000


and could conceivably be as large as this
A map of the U.S. with ND, SD, MT, WY, VT, ID, and AK highlighted

U.S. States with total population of c. 6,000,000

That is to say, the U.S. expat population is equivalent to a domestic population represented by somewhere between 4 and 8 seats in the House of Representatives, 8 and 14 seats in the Senate, and 12 and 22 Presidential Electors. Now, just to be clear, it is not the case that American expats lose the right to vote in national elections in any way. Expats register to vote in the State in which they last resided and cast absentee ballots. But that said, after only a very short period of time, I think most expats would tell you that their need for representation as an expat outweighs their need for representation as a Californian, or Michigander, or whatever they were before they left the country.

Now, there is a balance to be considered here. Were it the case that expats constituted their own voting block, it would logically mean that they were granted a certain number of seats in the House of Representatives. But certainly, they would lose their Senatorial representation (it wouldn’t make sense, as Senators are definitionally tied to individual States, which is why citizens in the U.S. capital of the District of Columbia do not have any Senators). Ah, and there’s the rub. Actually, citizens of Washington, D.C., don’t have any Congressmen at all — either in the House or the Senate. In fact, they didn’t have any vote for President until the Constitution was amended, voting for the first time in 1964 (when they cast their votes for LBJ over Goldwater).

Maybe it’s time for the 646,449 citizens of Washington, D.C., to band with their 3–6 million expat brethren and do something about that. It would be a shame if the U.K. got it done first.

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Chris Richardson has strong opinions on just about everything. Just ask.