Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about emigrant voting rights.
What Irish citizens can now vote, even if they are living abroad?
There are a small number of Irish citizens who can vote while living abroad. Those with the privilege are limited to the following:
- Members of the armed forces and the diplomatic services are able to vote in Dail elections
- NUI and Trinity graduates can vote in the Seanad, no matter where in the world they live
- Those temporarily away from home for fewer than 18 months (and intending to return within those 18 months) can also register at their home address in Ireland, and return home to vote. The recent #hometovote movement relied on this part of legislation to summon recent emigrants home to vote. Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan has suggested this 18-month period could possibly be extended to 3 years without the need for a referendum.
Isn’t emigrant voting representation without taxation?
Some people like to say that allowing emigrants the right to vote would be “representation without taxation” – as if “no representation without taxation” were some well-established democratic principle.
It’s not. The US is the only developed country in the world that taxes its non-resident citizens on income earned abroad – and yet the US is only one of well over 100 countries around the world that allows its expats to vote. Even in the US, there’s no actual connection between paying taxes and being allowed to vote. In fact, the 24th amendment to the US Constitution specifically bans the requirement of the payment of taxes in exchange for a vote. The text of that amendment reads:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
The confusion, of course, arises from the fact that the “No representation without taxation” sounds like “No taxation without representation” – a genuine rallying cry for democracy arising out of the American Revolution. “No representation without taxation” is the opposite – it’s a call to restrict democracy; a demand for a return to pre-Enlightenment era when only men of property could vote. We don’t demand the exchange of taxation for voting rights in any other context: the penniless are as entitled to vote in Ireland as the wealthy, and we don’t exclude net beneficiaries of taxation from voting.
Plus, there is the fact that being an emigrant does not mean you are automatically exempted from taxation. Overseas citizens may be liable for several kinds of tax – for example, on pension savings, homes, and even income tax depending on the kind of visa they are using to work abroad.
Does emigrant voting violate the principle of “one person, one vote”?
“One person, one vote” is, like “No taxation without representation”, a traditional rallying cry for people advocating for greater voting rights, not a call to limit the franchise. The phrasing usually refers to the constituency the person is a member of, and advocates that each citizen should have equal representation in that constituency. The idea that this phrase should be used to support disenfranchisement isn’t backed up in other contexts: other countries that allow dual citizenship do not confine their emigrant voting rights to those who don’t vote in their other nation of citizenship.
Shouldn’t people be voting where they live?
An argument for emigrant voting isn’t an argument against immigrant voting: the two are separate issues, and many supporters of emigrant voting rights actually support increased democratic representation for immigrants in their new countries as well.
But the reality is that many emigrants are completely disenfranchised for at least the first several years away, until they take up citizenship of the country in which they are living. The notable exception is the fact that Irish emigrants to the UK can vote as soon as they move there, thanks to a reciprocal arrangement that accords UK emigrants similar voting rights in Ireland. Because the UK allows for emigrant voting rights for the first 25 years after departure, however, this means that UK citizens can vote in both countries, while Irish citizens can only vote in the UK.
In any case, Ireland cannot demand that its emigrants be given a vote in the countries they have moved to. And most emigrants won’t have the vote in their new countries, for at least several years.