Dual Citizenship

by Brian on September 11, 2003

Jacob Levy argues that one of the costs of dual citizenship is that it may give too much electoral power to overseas voters. This is only a serious problem if all non-resident citizens have voting rights, and that isn’t a universal feature of modern democracies. In Australia, if I’ve read the rules correctly, the only non-residents allowed to vote are those out of the country for under 6 years. (And the only non-residents who can enrol are those who have been away for less than 2 years and are away for work-related reasons.) I don’t know what the rules are for other countries (those rules aren’t quite as relevant to me, so I’ve never had need to learn them) but if they are at all similar Jacob’s quite reasonable concern is already being addressed.

UPDATE: Don’t get electoral law advice from me! As Alan from Southerly Bluster notes in the comments, an overseas Australian can keep voting after being out of the country for 6 years provided s/he keeps enrolling every year. And it looks like the law will be amended soon in order to remove even that constraint. Part of my initial point still remains. We can in principle allow dual citizenship without having the worry Jacob alludes to by having residency restrictions on voting. If that was the only reason for not wanting dual citizenship, there is a workaround. But the (only!) data point I drew on in arguing that was mistaken. Much thanks to Alan for pointing me to the relevant bit of the law here.



Alan 09.11.03 at 1:54 am

According to the Australian Electoral Commisison:

If you are already on the electoral roll and you are going overseas for a period of up to 6 years, you may apply to register as an overseas elector, which means your name will remain on the roll during your absence. You must register during the 3 months prior to,or within two years from, your actual date of departure from Australia.

You can always vote from overseas. The 6 years is just the cutoff when you start having to re-enroll each year. Overseas electors are excused from the compulsory voting requirement.


pathos 09.11.03 at 3:27 am

I’m not sure what the big deal is about dual citizenships. If I, an American, move to France, and become a dual citizen, I will likely vote for the pro-French candidate (whomever that is), because good relations between my two countries are in my best interest.

How is that any different from the American who votes to elect the candidate from the Bomb France Party, who never has to live with the consequences of Bombing France from his comfortable home in Iowa? Or the rural voter who votes against a gun control measure that will only affect urban areas?

Members of the military or the peace corps can be overseas for years and no one would even think of taking their vote away. The U.S. ambassador to Lichtenstein gets to keep his vote, as does the Vice President of Citibank assigned to open a branch in Beijing to help make China safe for capitalism.

Unless there is some reason to believe that Americans living overseas are less devoted to America than Americans living here (aside from the fact that it “seems obvious”) I think everyone gets to keep their votes for as long as their hearts (if not their bodies) have been left in San Francisco.


Brian Weatherson 09.11.03 at 3:54 am


The 6 year cutoff seems to me to much more than that. If you have to re-enrol, and you are not eligible to enrol, then it seems you can’t vote. And you aren’t eligible to re-enrol unless:

* You are 17 years of age or older; and

* You are an Australian citizen, or a British subject who was on a Commonwealth Electoral Roll on 25 January 1984; and

* You departed Australia within the last 2 years and intend to return within 6 years of your date of departure from Australia; and

* You left Australia for reasons relating to your career or employment or that of your spouse; and

* You are not already enrolled.

It seems to me that in effect stops people from living outside Australia voting indefinitely. It’s not obvious I grant, and maybe the AEC’s reading of the rules (which is all that matters) is different to mine, but I don’t see how you could re-enrol in those circumstances.


Joshua W. Burton 09.11.03 at 4:46 am

Data point: Israel permits felons to vote from prison, but allows out-of-country absentee balloting only in the most extraordinary circumstances. IDF naval vessels at sea, a few hundred senior diplomats, and one doomed astronaut last election — I think that’s all.


Patrick (G) 09.11.03 at 5:12 am

As an actual dual-citizen, I don’t vote in French Elections because I don’t know the players and the issues well enough.

That may change in the future. The Bush administration’s pre-war french smear job was a political wake up call for me.


Doug 09.11.03 at 5:24 am

” During the 2000 election, President George W. Bush carried the state of Florida on the 5,700 net vote yield from Republicans overseas thanks to a massive international advertising campaign and strong grassroots leadership on the part of Republicans Abroad. In addition, Republicans won two Senate seats and six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives because of Republican absentee ballots cast from overseas.”

From http://www.republicansabroad.org/whoweare.htm

Just so you know.


Alan 09.11.03 at 6:23 am


The Joint Committee on Electoral matters has recommended that all time limits on overseas voting be removed and this is likely to pass.

For the moment the situation is governed by the the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, S 94(9) which seems to imply you can renew enrolment for an unlimited number of 1-year periods.


Scott Martens 09.11.03 at 7:55 am

I think Levy is right to be suspicious of dual citizenship, but the only alternative is either extending full legal equality to non-citizen residents or accepting that a large part of a country’s resident population will never be able to vote.

The EU is moving towards the first arrangement. Dual citizenship – except by birth – is legally impossible in most of Western Europe. If a Frenchman becomes a naturalised German, they lose their French citizenship automatically. However, a Frenchman can live in Germany forever and enjoys, for the most part, full legal rights there without having to change their passport. The EU is also pressing to allow European migrants to vote in elections in their country of residence.

Most people do not migrate with the intent to abandon their homelands. They migrate for money, for opportunities, or – in my case many years ago – for a woman. Most have no particular desire to adopt their new country as a part of their identity. Either the state has to recognise the mixture of loyalties implicit in changing countries, or allow non-citizens fully equal status.


pathos 09.11.03 at 9:36 pm

On the other hand, it was my understanding that, for example, renouncing a Turkish citizenship had serious repurcussions under Turkish law in terms of inheritance. Many want to keep their citizenship for financial reasons even if they prefer to take on another country’s.


raj 09.12.03 at 6:43 pm

I am a lawyer, but I’m not steeped in election law. However, it seems to me that, in most states in the US, when one registers to vote, one has to swear that he is registering in the jurisdiction that is his principal residence. And if the principal residence changes, s/he is no longer permitted to vote there–at least not legally.

The upshot is that, if someone has dual citizenship (US and France, say), and his or her principal residence is France, it would be a violation for him or her to vote in the US. Usually, duration of residence is used to determine which residence is the principal one.

If this is the case, I’m not sure what Levy’s complaint is–at least vis-a-vis the US.


Patrick (G) 09.12.03 at 10:00 pm

As far as voting from abroad, I believe that the rationale is that though you may now be residing abroad, you are still considered a citizen of your country/state/municipality and thus still eligible to vote in those elections.

On another point, I have no problem with full legal equality to non-citizen residents. I had a friend who was a legal u.s. resident for 15 years and thereby had to abide by u.s. laws, knew the issues, and the politicians, wanted to vote (unlike most americans…), why should she not be allowed U.S. political representation or have it at the price of her french citizenship ? …Which would have been disastrous for her since they eventually moved back to France.

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