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Florida Couple Shares Experience Of Voting From Overseas

Maia Doughtie and Dustin Holmes via Zoom in Vietnam
Zoom screen capture
English teachers Dustin Holmes and Maia Doughtie live in Vietnam, but continue to vote in America's elections.

English teachers Maia Doughtie and Dustin Holmes, who have ties to Florida, share their story of what it is like to vote in America's elections while living in Vietnam.

Voting in America remains a right, even for citizens who don’t live in the country any more. A pair of young voters from Florida says it’s not as hard to do as it seems.

Maia Doughtie is from St. Petersburg, but is registered to vote in Washington state; her boyfriend, Dustin Holmes, is from Nassau County, near Jacksonville. They both now live in Vietnam, where they’ve cast ballots in elections back home a few times.

Voting during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a challenge for many — and while that may seem to make it even more challenging for Americans living abroad to cast their votes, Doughtie said it hasn’t been much of an issue for them.

In Vietnam, American politics is not usually a topic of conversation, so Holmes and Doughtie utilize the power of social media to stay informed.

The couple, who are both English teachers, said they started researching candidates early to stay on top of information. Every morning, their routine is to check social media outlets and fact-check what they read. They say they feel a responsibility to be educated on American politics.

“It's kind of our duty to remain informed, so when people over here ask us questions, we're able to give a straightforward answer,” Holmes said.

Doughtie said she prides herself in staying up-to-date on politics for her students who are interested in American news.

“My kids are constantly asking me questions about things that are going on in the States...I think that's a really cool thing that some of the younger generations are almost more involved politically than the adults,” Doughtie said.

And when it comes to voting, they said they found it to be a very simple thing to do.

They used a website called VoteFromAbroad.org, which shows people how to get and return ballots for their specific state, both in primaries and the general elections.

The timelines are similar to voting domestically — deadlines to register to vote don’t change, but federal law gives overseas voters, as well as military families, 10 days after election day to return their mail ballots.

But with technology, Doughtie and Holmes didn’t have to worry about allowing enough time to get their ballots back to the U.S.

The process itself differs from state-to-state. Doughtie was able to just go onto her county’s voter portal online in Washington state and fill out her whole ballot virtually, while Holmes, who is registered in Florida, was required to fax his ballot to Nassau County elections officials. He also had to sign a waiver saying that he gave up his right to a private vote.

Both feel confident that their votes will be counted as valid since they did it well in advance of November 3.

Doughtie said if people start the process on time, that’s more than enough time to get their vote in.

“There's no reason for people who are not living in the country to not vote. ...That's a very bad excuse,” Doughtie said.

“It's really not hard, and it just takes a tiny amount of effort and time to do it.”

Rachel Giannelli is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for the fall of 2020.