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  • Kinga Rajzak

American expats voting from Hungary : US presidential election most important ever

Nov, 2, 2020

By Kinga Rajzak

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- American citizens residing outside of the United States have cast their absentee ballots for the next president, with Americans living in Hungary being no exception.

“It is important that everyone’s voice is heard,” said the California-born Brandon Krueger, 46 who is a website developer and came to Budapest in 2002. “I wish that they made it mandatory, like in some countries, because then everyone gets their voice.”

In 2016 there were over 5.5 million U.S. citizens living abroad across 170 countries, however only about half of them were eligible to vote and only seven percent of them did so compared with 60 percent domestically.

Americans who live abroad, including military personnel and their families who cannot vote in person in their home state, or the last state where they had a registered address prior to moving abroad are required to request an absentee ballot via the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

The application can be simply completed online on the Federal Voting Assistance website, where every absentee voter needs to fill out a Federal Election Post Card, select their state and send their ballot request to the appropriate state’s election authorities. State election offices then will send them their ballots by post or e-mail which they can print out, fill in, sign, before sending it back via e-mail, postal mail or in some cases fax, depending on state legislation. The official day of the election is November 3rd.

“Colorado makes it super easy to vote,” said Karen MacMeekin, 58 who is a librarian at the American International School of Budapest. “Voting is awesome.”

MacMeekin has been in Hungary for five years. Initially she was going to stay for a year-long contract in 2015, but after Trump got elected, she asked her boss to extend her contract for additional four years. Now she thinks this is one of the most important elections ever with America’s integrity being at stake.

“If the current president is re-elected, there is absolutely no way that I’ll go back,”she said.

This year, despite the coronavirus pandemic raging on, record number of people have already voted.

According to the Election Project over 96 million people have cast their ballots as of Monday either by mail or by taking advantage of early in-person voting. This number is two thirds of all votes counted in 2016.

President Trump who is fighting for his survival has expressed doubt about the validity of the election, saying that mail-in ballots would “rig” the outcome.

“He is spinning the story,” Krueger said. “It is absolutely minimal, the amount of fraud that occurs with this.”

In the U.S. every citizen can request a mail-in ballot that involves a paper ballot, but laws concerning them will vary by state. Mail-in ballots can be requested by those who have a valid address in their state. In this election cycle nine states along with the District of Columbia have automatically sent registered voters their mail-in ballots because of the pandemic. Overall, more than 91 million mail-in ballots have been distributed or requested across the country.

Krueger who has been in Hungary for nearly 20 years has always voted by a mail-in ballot.

“I know I could do the absentee ballot thing,” said Krueger, who has a registered address in California at his mother’s house. “We have a system with my mum. She gets my ballot in the mail, sends it here, I fill it out and send it back, then my mum tells me hey I got it.”

Krueger’s mother then forwards the ballot via postal mail to the local election office.

“I feel a bit more secure, like I know my ballot is not lost this way,” Krueger said.

According to a recent Gallup poll American voter confidence has plummeted to 2008 lows as President Trump keeps casting doubt on the election’s legitimacy. The survey indicates that only 19 percent of Americans are “very” confident and 40 percent are “somewhat confident” in the validity of the results.

“Trump is a trickster who thinks in a corrupt way,” said Gabriella Verbovszky, 54, who is a senior relations specialist and has been in Hungary on and off since 1995. “He says the opposite of what is true, he wants to avoid people sending in their ballots because he is scared.”

When Verbovszky was younger she didn’t care about voting, but over the years she has become more engaged in politics. These days she tunes in and tries to follow the elections closely.

“Everything is political, even the air you breathe,” Verbovszky said. She voted early in October for Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee via the Chicago, Illinois election authorities. “This is no doubt the most important election in my lifetime.”

Jonathan Halperyn, 43 is a film producer from New York who moved to Hungary nearly five years ago. He firmly believes in the integrity of the election.

“Even in 2016 it was not a rigged election, it was just our electoral system, democracy in action,” said Halperyn about Donald Trump’s 2016 win despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes.

While Halperyn isn’t worried about voter fraud, he feels uneasy about the president’s rhetoric.

“I am afraid that Trump will do pretty much anything to win, that he will tie up various states in court actions over ballots and convince large swaths of the American population that the election is flawed, undemocratic,” he said. “Looking back, even George W. Bush wasn’t so bad.”

Halperyn voted for Biden but isn’t a fan of the Democratic presidential nominee. He wanted to see a stronger candidate.

“There is a part of me that is afraid that he won’t win," he said.

The election is determined by electoral college votes. Every state has a certain number of these votes based on how many congressional districts they have along with two State senate seats. (Washington DC is an exception because it has no congressional representation but has three votes.) In order to win the presidency, either candidate must bag 270 out of the total 538 electoral votes.

With one day to go, polls project a Biden victory.

“Biden is not the person I would pick out from a line-up, but he is decent,” said Krueger who favored Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang from the pool of Democratic presidential candidates. “Trump is lazy and incompetent stepping on all these norms because he can, his behavior is the biggest issue.”

Verbovszky, whose Hungarian father emigrated to the U.S. after 1956, thinks that Trump is destroying the values and ideals that have made America an exceptional place.

“The minute he [Trump] got elected, all the goodness started to wither away,” she said. “It is also about decency, he must be voted out.”

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