#DiasporaVote: Overview of Voting from Abroad


This article has been reproduced below from the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network. The ACE network promotes credible, and transparent electoral processes with emphasis on sustainability, professionalism, and trust in the electoral process. ACE offers a wide range of services related to electoral knowledge, assistance and capacity development. This article can be accessed at this link: http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/va/overview

The aim here is to engage stakeholders in debate and further discussion on the topic in order to improve present structures, future readiness and practice in external voting. On both theoretical and practical levels this topic area aims to contribute to the discussion of the basic principle of representation and how to operationalize and balance criteria such as inclusiveness and effectiveness. It will also hopefully create greater general understanding of electoral and institutional design issues on the part of legislators, EMBs, political parties and other participants debating change. Providing good external voting practices is a future challenge to democracy and to the perception of democracy—among migrant voters in particular.

In 2000 there were 175 million international migrants in the world, that is, one out of every 35 persons in the world was an international migrant. This total represented a more than twofold increase from 76 million in 1960. By comparison, the world population only doubled from 3 billion in 1960 to 6 billion in 2000. Interestingly, statistics show an increased concentration of migrants in the developed world and in a small number of countries. Trends also show that there has been a shift of labour migration to East and South-East Asia, and migration has also been responsible for the increase in population growth in receiving countries where fertility levels have been low.

Professional groups, students, tourists and other potential external voters have also increased in numbers since World War II. Not only have the numbers of potential external voters increased over the world; they are also more mobile and move or travel faster, which increases the demand for external voting practices to function in different circumstances.

For the purposes of this topic area, external voting external voting means procedures which enable some or all electors of a country who are temporarily or permanently abroad to exercise their voting rights from outside the national territory. The term used throughout the topic area is ‘external voting’. Expressions such ‘absent voting’, ‘absentee voting’ or ‘out-of-country voting’ which are commonly found mean the same thing.

Types of election external voting can be applied

External voting can be applied at national or local elections or both. It can also be used for referendums and sub-national elections. It is most common for countries to allow external voting for national elections only, that is, for presidential or legislative elections.

The decision as to the kinds of election for which external voting will apply relates not only to political and institutional considerations (which institutions and which levels of government should be influenced by the votes of electors abroad?) but also to technical and logistical considerations, mostly linked to the type of system used to elect the legislature or the president and to the procedures that will be used for external voting.

Categories of external elector

There are several categories of external electors in the world and different approaches to categorizing them. Social, political, cultural or ethnic circumstances all lead to migration and also, therefore, produce groups of potential external voters. It has been suggested that there are four main groups of people staying or residing abroad who are entitled to vote. These are (a) workers, (b)  and internally displaced persons (IDPs), (c) in certain professional groups, such as military personnel, public officials or diplomatic staff (and their families) and (d) a country’s citizens living or staying abroad, temporarily or permanently (sometimes subject to restrictions.


There are some restrictions on the entitlement to vote externally that certain countries apply. Restrictions are normally related to the time spent abroad or the activity carried out abroad. For practical reasons, a country may limit the availability of external voting to citizens living or staying in certain (in some cases neighbouring) countries. Some countries make the option of external voting available only when a minimum number of external electors are registered in a host country.

Entitlement to vote from abroad is sometimes restricted to a specific type of election or referendum or, as another example, to voters who are assumed to have a connection with their home country. They may have to show an intent to return to their country of origin. Sometimes there are additional requirements, for example, that voters must not be abroad for longer than a specified number of years.

There are also several reasons for potential external electors not to register or vote. They may relate to a person’s fear of being located at a place where he or she is not expected to be, for work or political reasons. Other reasons may include that a person has become distanced from the political issues in their own country, or the sometimes complex or costly logistical efforts that have to be gone through in order first to register and then to vote.

External Voting Procedures

Ways of voting from abroad

There are several ways in which electors can cast their vote from abroad. Some countries offer alternative methods for voting from abroad, while other countries limit their options to one, for logistical or financial reasons. Some options are more costly than others, while some offer a more secure or faster voting channel. The four main voting options are the following.

  • Personal voting. The voter must go to a specific place and cast his or her vote there in person. This can be a diplomatic mission or a polling place specially set up abroad. This is the procedure most widely used for casting an external vote.
  • Postal voting. The voter fills out the ballot paper at a place he or she chooses and the vote is then transmitted by ordinary post to the home country. Sometimes witnesses are required to confirm the identity of the voter and witness that he or she has filled in the ballot paper freely and without interference.
  • The proxy vote. A citizen living or staying abroad may be enabled to vote by choosing a proxy who casts the vote for the voter at a polling place in the home country, or abroad.
  • Electronic means. The voter may use the Internet, personal digital assistants (PDAs), telephones or a mobile phone to cast his or her vote. This type of electronic voting is most often referred to as remote electronic voting, or e-voting and may become more common in future.

Organization of External Voting

Most countries with provisions for external voting organise it through their administrative settings, with assistance of mail services, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs etc. However, a smaller number of countries, typically those that have recently come out of a conflict, organise it with the assistance of international organisations, other countries or partners. Assistance of international partners may be necessary in some cases for a variety of reasons, including issues relating to trust, security or organisational settings.


This Voting from Abroad topic area discusses the problematic of electoral legislation of external voting. It furthermore examines conditions for entitlement to vote as well as qualifications to stand as a candidate in elections. It outlines practical process of implementation of external voting and considers host country issues such as their roles and responsibilities. Moreover, it summarizes the political rights of refugees and displaced persons with respect to enfranchisement and participation together with those of migrant workers related to external voting. The topic area also focuses on the question of observation of external voting and moreover looks into problematic of e-voting in the context of voting from abroad. Finally, it provides reader with comparative review of various countries relating to external voting.


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