US Election 2020 - To vote or not to vote when you’re an American expat

We asked a cross-section of olim from the US about their reasons to vote, or not, in the presidential election this coming November.

More than half of eligible American voters living in Israel voted in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections (photo credit: Courtesy)
More than half of eligible American voters living in Israel voted in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Globally, just 7% of eligible US voters living overseas voted in the 2016 presidential election. Nevertheless, according to Rachel Broyde, a Jerusalem-based political analyst, “more than half of eligible American voters living in Israel voted in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.”
We asked a cross-section of olim from the US about their reasons to vote, or not, in the presidential election this coming November.
I’m not planning to vote
Jacob Berger made aliyah in 2014 from Miami, Florida and lives in Rehovot.
“I live here now and voting for POTUS is rather pointless from here,” he said. “The people who think one candidate will be better for Israel or not really need to look at history to realize, over time, they all help us with one hand and hurt us with the other. Overseas ballots did not get counted in the past, unless the race was close enough. I don’t recall the percentage difference, but our few votes from here would not sway an election.”
Jerusalem resident Karen Sharabi made aliyah in 1976 from Washington, DC.
 “I have never voted in an American election,” she explained. I was 17 when I moved here so [I was] too young to vote in the States before I left. I have always believed that expats and non-residents should not have the right to vote. If you are living overseas for a short time, that’s a different story, but if you have chosen to move to a different country and become a citizen there, that’s where you should vote. I feel the same way about Israelis living overseas who vote in our elections. Many years ago, my mother really pressured me to vote, so I looked into options. There was so much bureaucracy and, because I left the States before I turned 18, I couldn’t make it work and gave up. I never tried again.”
Benjamin Shindell made aliyah in 2003, from Milwaukee and lives in Petah Tikva. His rationale for not voting is identity-driven.
“I think part of making aliyah is recognizing that we are American Jews, not Jewish Americans. US elections shouldn’t concern us if we do not live in the US anymore.”
Ben Waxman grew up in Delaware, made aliyah in 1987 and lives in Ariel. He cited two reasons why he never votes in US presidential elections.
“I don’t follow American news and am totally unaware of the issues.” He also commented, “I feel like I have thrown my lot in with Israel and Israelis. Voting in the US would simply be crashing a party to which I am not invited. I certainly have the right to vote there since the US requires a tax return from its citizens abroad, but for me, the right to vote isn’t the issue, but the appropriateness. I will not be voting.”
Modi’in resident Hanoch Young hasn’t voted in a US election since making aliyah in 2009.
“The reason is very simple,” he explained. “Since I do not live in the US, I do not share their collective destiny, dreams and visions of American society. I have no skin in the game. I have no business voting in their election. I would not want Israelis living abroad permanently to be able to vote in elections here. For those who feel that since the USA is an important ally of ours, I should vote in their elections, again, I would be voting from a position of an interest and focus strictly on Israel. Also, since the president is elected based upon the Electoral College, and votes from here don’t count toward that, why even consider doing it?”
Some, like Edda Weissberg, who made aliyah from Baltimore to Ma’aleh Adumim in 2009, are changing their minds this year.
“I have gradually cut my ties with the US,” she shared. “I am very against the idea of living with one foot in each country. I have let American politics alone and don’t really care about it as many expats do… until this election. What is happening in America is downright scary and the implications are huge and can have repercussions on a global scale. It seems to me that America is quickly sliding into total lawlessness, fueled by blind hatred and self-centeredness. The America that I knew and admired is gone.”
Weissberg has already requested an absentee ballot.
You bet I’ll be voting
From his home in Ma’aleh Hever in the Hebron Hills, Gidon Ariel, who made aliyah from Queens in 1978, shared that he plans to vote even though, “the system is not very motivating for an expat.”
He describes himself as “a political person” whose interest in politics falls somewhere “between hobbyist and junkie.” He is also a conservative.
“I don’t think about it too much because NY is a blue state, so my vote really doesn’t count that much. I just like the game. [And] even if no individual vote tips the scales, if Israeli expats [have] a very high turnout, we will be paid more attention to.”
Hannah Beiner has been living in Ma’aleh Adumim since 1991. She made aliyah from Baltimore the day after the 1984 election because, “I wanted to be there to vote.” She said she’s “voted in almost every [US] election,” since then. If she misses one, she blames it on poor mail service.
“As an American-Israeli, I think we need to be considering the rise in antisemitism, the fractures in American society and other relevant social issues, in addition to the usual considerations about what will be good for Israel.”
Gedaliah Blum made aliyah in 2004 and lives in Eli. He’s planning to vote.
“The one who sits in the Oval Office has a direct effect on geopolitics, especially Israel. I always see the constant struggle for Israel to be supported by the US president. I don’t vote as a US citizen. I vote as an Israeli, with Israeli considerations. The No. 1 issue I am looking for is support for Jewish sovereignty and the rejection of a Palestinian state,” he added.
Anita and Carl Jacobs live in Jerusalem. They make aliyah from New Jersey in 2011. Carl explained that they “have voted in each presidential election since we arrived. I feel it is important to stay in touch and understand the political situation in the US as it reflects on our lives here.”
Anita emphasized, “My grandmothers worked so hard to secure my right to vote as a female. It is my desire to strengthen this legacy. Making wise choices for America is important to me because my children and grandchildren live there and I want a good society for them. I [also] want to set an example for them that, while Israel is my home, I am concerned for my family and friends.”
Anita, who was the director of major Jewish organizations in the States, asserted, “A happy, lawful and secure America is important for the Jewish future there and for the future of Israel and the world.”
Daniel Lang made aliyah in 1993 from Chicago. He and his family live in Rimonim.
“My wife and I have voted in every US presidential election since making aliyah,’ he said. “I will still vote, just don’t know yet for whom. I am so conflicted. However, if I don’t vote, I can’t rightfully complain about US policies toward Israel.”
Michael Lipkin lives in Bet Shemesh. He made aliyah in 2004 from Edison, New Jersey.
“I take my American citizenship seriously and it’s very important to me. As such I feel I have the same obligation to vote as if I still lived in the US. In general, I believe it’s important, when voting in a US election, to vote as an American, not as an Israeli. I still look at the same range of factors, not just what’s good for Israel, when I vote.”
Sara Kruger Schwartz also lives in Bet Shemesh. She made aliyah from New York in 2011. “
I don’t believe my absentee ballot actually makes a difference, but I have voted in every presidential election since I was 18. Voting is very important to me, as someone who was born in a country where people died for the right to democracy and fought so hard for women to be able to vote. I continue to vote while living abroad because I believe that a human actually sees my absentee ballot at some point and the postmark from Israel. I like to think that counts for something.”
Wendy Derovan has been living in Ma’aleh Adumim since 2010, after making aliyah from Los Angeles.
“I have a business in the US and pay American taxes; I deserve a voice in how my money is spent. As an Israeli, even though I know that my vote will not be counted unless it’s a super close result (and this could be the year), I care deeply about Israel’s greatest ally and our relationship.”
Eric Yudkovitch is registered to vote in Oregon. He has lived in Israel since 2005 and takes pride in being an informed voter.
“Because I live here, I used to vote according to the candidates’ policies on Israel. But unlike most people who receive their information from biased news sources, I would independently research actual, full interviews with the candidates, and their policy histories as recorded in official records.”
Concern over recent events in the US provides fuel for his intention to vote again this November. And, he added, “My wife hasn’t ever voted in an American election, but she’s registered in a swing state, so this time she will, too.”
A deeper understanding
Broyde, who has helped individuals register to vote, explained, “People who want to register absentee have to re-register before every single election. Even if people think they registered in the past, they need to register again. That’s how absentee voting requests work. Historically, American expats in Israel followed voting patterns similar to American Jews, meaning close to 80% voted Democrat. That is shifting, and more American expats in Israel, and their children, are voting Republican.”
A contrasting perspective was offered by Heather Stone, chair of Democrats Abroad-Israel.
“2020 is shaping up to be another #BlueWave year based on the voter registration numbers on Less than 2% of users of register as Republicans.”
Both Stone and David Wiener,’s local director of Beit Shemesh and assistant national coordinator, agree that the interest in voting is significantly higher this year than in the last two presidential elections.
“Registration and ballot requests usually peak in September,” Stone said, “but already statistics show 25-35% more requests each month since March 2020 than in comparable months [of] 2018 or 2016. We are seeing a notable rise in young people and first-time voters using, stemming from its user-friendly interface. It takes five-10 minutes to register online.”
Wiener concurs. “There’s definitely a huge difference in this election, not only the people that have never voted absentee before, but also people that have never voted before. And I’m talking about people that moved here as teenagers with their parents, as well as people who are in their 70s that just never voted before and have now decided to vote. A lot of the [newest] olim tend to be more connected to the US, so they still have this thing about voting, although there has also been an increase in [veteran olim] that are registering also.”
Asked why an expat should bother voting if their state traditionally goes to the party not represented by their candidate, Wiener explained, “The more people we can show voting here, the more influence we can have when it comes to fighting against things like the FBAR (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) and FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). The actual amount of people voting here has influence on [US government] policy.”
Tel Aviv has more eligible US voters than almost any other international city, ranking in the top five.
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