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Study abroad participants vote from overseas

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Tuesday, November 6, 2012


While most Americans watched the presidential debates from their couches at home and followed live news coverage of the election this season, junior Danielle Dorrego has watched the 2012 campaigns unfold from across the pond. 

Dorrego is one of a host of Notre Dame students studying abroad this semester, and she has faced the challenges of balancing immersion in a new culture with a civic desire to stay informed about the political debates at stake in this election.

While it is difficult to stay politically informed while abroad, Dorrego said it is still possible to make becoming an educated voter a priority. 

“For the most part, I’ve been able to follow the presidential debates and the issues that I found important,” said Dorrego. “While not necessarily in real time due to the time difference, I’ve been able to watch the debates from my home in London thanks to the Internet. Finding the time to do so can get somewhat tricky, but if it’s something that is important to you, as it is in my case, it’s not too difficult.”

Dorrego said it is interesting to watch the election develop from a distance, with the perspective of another country’s media coverage.

“I have noticed that the U.S. presidential election is a very hot topic in British media,” Dorrego said. “Many different publications have covered election news in detail, explaining the positions and policies of each candidate and giving future predictions of this election’s worldwide effects.”

Junior Victoria Kay, who is spending the semester in Toledo, Spain, said she has not been able to follow the election as closely as she would have liked. 

“I have only followed the elections minimally since I’ve been abroad,” Kay said. ” It’s hard to keep up unless I make a concerted effort to read articles online. I was able to stream the second presidential debate online in between my classes, so that was a quick and helpful way to get information from the two candidates. 

“I have been limited in my ability to discuss the election with other American voters, however – I would have liked to have had more conversations with my parents and friends without the distance and large gap in time zones.”

Kay also said the international interest in this election has changed the way she thinks about the voting process. 

“Studying abroad in Spain has inevitably given me a larger worldview, though I have only been here for a couple months, and this has impacted my thought process as I was making a decision about my vote,” Kay said. “I have learned a lot about politics and society in Spain, and the differences I have found between here and the U.S. are astounding.”

Kay said her host family’s interest in her vote was strong enough to make her uncomfortable at times. 

“My host mom has asked me about what I think about the elections as well as about what my family at home thinks and she even asked me who I voted for in the end,” Kay said. “I found that a little unnerving because I can’t quite tell whom they would prefer to be our next president and I didn’t want to put a political rift between us.”

Kay’s host family listens to radio shows that discuss the election, and her history professor has said Spaniards like to be very informed about what is going on everywhere in the world, she said.

“My professor mentioned that most Spaniards prefer President Obama because he is more open-minded in international relations, so I found that to be a very interesting opinion,” Kay said. “He suggested that in comparison [to the Spaniards], most Americans seem to be very uninformed in matters of international news.”

Both Dorrego and Kay submitted absentee ballots from their respective countries, and this is the first election in which both are eligible to vote.

“Although I am abroad, I think it is important that my voice is heard,” Dorrego said. “The logistics of the [voting] process were more annoying than anything else – for instance, I had to mail in my ballot before the last presidential debate occurred in order to ensure that it would arrive on time.”

Kay also said the absentee ballot process was a “nuisance” but worth the effort.

“I used the website that was emailed to the study abroad students through OIS, so I simply had to enter my name, state, and county of residence and it directed me to the pages I needed to print and mail into the headquarters of my county back home in order to submit my absentee ballot,” Kay said. “I opted to receive my ballot via email because I was afraid it wouldn’t be mailed to me in time. This, however, meant I had to fax it back to the U.S. which cost me a pretty penny because the fax rates from here to the U.S. are very expensive.”

This logistical challenge was not nearly enough to deter Kay from participating in her first presidential election, she said.

“I debated not casting my vote because it was too expensive, but then I realized it was ‘vale la pena’ as we say here in Spain, ‘It was worth it,'” she said. “I figured the 18 precious euros spent on submitting my vote was more valuable than spending them on more frivolous things such as gelato or those boots I’ve been eyeing.”