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History of FAWCO and Voting Overseas

History of FAWCO and Voting Overseas: A Force in the Struggle for Overseas Voting


Feel free to use the information below for an article in your club's monthly publication or other publicity materials. A more detailed account can be found in A Force in the Struggle for Overseas Voting. The original version can be found in the FAWCO FORUMS of Autumn (Winter) 1995 and Spring 1996.




Americans living overseas have not always been able to participate in their country's democratic electoral process. The first law assuring us this right, the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act, was passed by Congress in 1975. It gave us the right to vote for candidates for Federal office (i.e., President, Vice President, Senators, and members of the House of Representatives) if we would otherwise be qualified to vote were we still residing in the United States. It was amended in 1978 to prohibit any State or local authority from taxing a U.S. citizen residing overseas solely because the citizen voted in an election for Federal office. In 1986, this Act was superseded by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, which included all of the above provisions, and created the special Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). We are currently voting from overseas under this Act.

In 1953 FAWCO launched a twenty-two-year struggle to achieve voting rights for Americans living overseas. We have continued to work to improve and simplify the process, combining forces with other organizations abroad.

After it was created to implement these acts, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP – www.fvap.gov ), with headquarters in Washington, was an invaluable ally. FVAP provides most of the hard-copy materials that we need to run biennial overseas registration and get-out- the-vote campaigns.

In 2006, FAWCO formed an alliance with the new, nonpartisan, Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF – https://www.overseasvotefoundation.org/overseas/home.htm). This enabled us to direct voters to a safe, secure online registration wizard (and other voter services) and, for the first time, to offer services to voters whom we did not meet face to face. This significantly extended our reach.

In 2008, OVF set up a FAWCO version of its site (http://fawco.overseasvotefoundation.org), so we could offer all its services directly and could begin to measure our own online impact.

The FAWCO Voting-from-Overseas Committee encourages each club to have a an individual or group dedicated to registering voters (within the club and in the wider community) and helping them vote in each U.S. election. The committee provides its members with updated guidelines and timely memos to encourage voting from overseas by making the process as simple as possible. Its mission today is to increase civilian voter participation from overseas. Part of this job is to join with other groups of Americans in Overseas Voters Week (http://www.overseasamericansweek.com/ ) to lobby Congress toreduce the barriers faced by overseas voters. Thus, it helps FAWCO play our part in reinforcing democracy worldwide.

The whole story


In March, 2000, the Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas (FAWCO) celebrated the 25th anniversary of passage of the Overseas Citizen's Voting Rights Act at its conference in Washington, DC. This legislation enfranchised for the first time all U.S. citizens living overseas. FAWCO women had worked hard and consistently to help bring this about.

1953: Brussels Conference: Decision to assist FAWCO members to participate in United States elections.

1955: Zurich Conference: Committee appointed to follow legislation on absentee voting and take appropriate nonpartisan action to support improvement of voting procedures.

Esther Petersen (President of AWC Brussels) was chair of the "Absentee Voting Project" in the '50's and later held high positions in three US Governments, the U.N. and the consumer movement. She returned to FAWCO as a keynote speaker at the Düsseldorf conference in 1985.
Genevieve Garzero (AWA Rome) chaired the "Citizenship Status Committee". She sued the State of California in an attempt to regain her own registration in that state, hoping to establish a meaningful precedent.

1959: Paris Conference: Decision to continue supporting legislation designed to simplify voting procedures for qualified citizens residing abroad and to seek help from other organizations with similar aims. In the US FAWCO sought support from the League of Women Voters, the National Council of Women and the two major political parties. Final success, however, was achieved by combining forces with overseas groups as they were organized, beginning with the League of American Residents Abroad (LARA), and the American Chambers of Commerce. Later, more targeted help came from the Bipartisan Committee on Absentee Voting (organized in the mid-'60's) and the Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO - founded in 1973).
Suffrage being a state privilege, each local electoral board had the final word. Three major stumbling blocks to voting from overseas were:

   1. proving residence in a state when you were in fact living overseas
   2. registering in those states which did not have permanent registration, and which required registration in person
   3. state and local tax liabilities, which were often incurred as a result of voting

1963:  Alicia Paolozzi, FAWCO Washington Liaison, solicited the help of the LWV and NY Congressmen (Javitts and Lindsay) and testified at hearings held by President Kennedy's "Commission on Registration and Voting Participation".

1967: Rome Conference: Genevieve Garzero led a panel with Mitchell Strohl (LARA), Judith Aitken (president of AWC Brussels the following year) and Alfred E. Davidson (Bipartisan Committee on Absentee Voting) on "Voting Rights of Americans Residing Overseas". They concluded that Congressional legislation was needed.

1968: Elaine Senigallia's (AWA Rome) comprehensive report on "The Americans Who Can't Vote" was submitted to a congressional subcommittee holding hearings on electoral reforms.

1969: Frances Rennie (AWC London) conducted a survey of all 50 State Boards of Election to enlighten FAWCO members and to spell out our problem more concretely. This was submitted to Congress. She became chair of the Citizenship Status Committee for FAWCO.

1969: At last, bills began to be introduced, and FAWCO clubs lobbied for their passage. A few bills aimed towards "easing voting abroad" were passed, but had flaws, and, more significantly, were only recommendatory - not binding on the states. Nevertheless, FAWCO worked hard in support of these bills, with letter campaigns, petitions, appearances at numerous subcommittee hearings, and submission of surveys and reports for the Congressional Record.

1971:Paris Conference: Frances Rennie reported on the "Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970".

l1972: Gloria Fischel (AWC Amsterdam) conducted an in-depth post-election survey of the American community in the Netherlands, which demonstrated that the "Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970" were ineffective.

1975: Two more versions of the same bill had been submitted before a final version passed. As chair of the Citizenship Status Committee, Gloria directed FAWCO's efforts towards passage of the 1975 version, working closely with the Bipartisan Committee and AARO. The highlight of their combined lobbying was an imaginative "Tea Bag Campaign" which had originated within AARO. With pointed reference to the Boston Tea Party, everyone was urged to send a tea bag to her/his congressman. It worked. Reports circulated that congressmen didn't want to see any more tea bags - and the "Overseas Voting Rights Act of 1975" passed Congress at the end of the year. It was signed by President Ford January 2, 1976.

Americans residing overseas were no longer "involuntary non-voters", as described in the Kennedy Commission's Report.

FAWCO's next task was to ensure that we did not become voluntary non-voters. Voting from overseas represented special challenges. Complicated and different procedures existed for each state, and less-than-perfect laws governing the process needed improvement and simplification on both state and national levels. FAWCO volunteers continued working tirelessly to meet these challenges.

Kathleen de Carbuccia and Phyllis Michaux (both AAWE Paris) co-chaired the Citizenship Status Committee, which included voter registration. They contacted the "Voting Information Office" of the Department of Defense - predecessor of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) - and the League of Women Voters of the US to obtain materials and information which they circulated to all FAWCO clubs.

1977: Rome Conference: A workshop entitled "The Voting Americans Overseas" lead by Kathleen and Phyllis identified continuing problems. The most urgent was that, because of an omission in the text of the 1975 law, voters still risked being taxed locally as a result of voting.

1978: With a letter-writing campaign, FAWCO women contributed to the passage of legislation rectifying the problem of state and local taxes. Overseas citizens were at last assured that voting in FEDERAL ELECTIONS ONLY could not cause them any tax liabilities.

1980: FAWCO clubs began a program of intensive, coordinated get-out-the-overseas-vote campaigns every two years, reaching out to all US citizens in their areas, offering materials and advice, and organizing special voter registration sessions.

1983: Dean Ferrier (AAWE Paris) began ten years of inspired and elegant leadership of the newly-formed Voting-from-Overseas subcommittee of the US Citizens Concerns Committee.

1984: Dean Ferrier and Kathy Webster (AWC Brussels and Chair of the US Citizens Concerns Committee) conducted the first of FAWCO's biennial voter registration workshops at the Dublin Interim Meeting.

1986: Dean led FAWCO members in a successful letter-writing campaign to support legislation creating an emergency Federal Write-in Ballot (FWAB), to be used by electors who have applied correctly for a ballot, but do not receive it in time to vote. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act was signed by the President on August 28th.

Throughout her term Dean worked closely with the Federal Voting Assistance Program, not only to obtain materials and advice, but to assist the FVAP in their endeavor to simplify and improve the process of voting from overseas. To this end FAWCO Reps helped Dean by responding to surveys, organizing letter campaigns to Congress, and offering constructive comments on successive revisions of the FPCA (Federal Postcard Application). In 1992 Dean provided all clubs with an invaluable pamphlet "ABSENTEE VOTING: How to Organize Voter Registration Rallies".

1993: Kathy Webster became chair of the FAWCO Voting-from Overseas Committee. With the assistance of the FVAP she has conducted voting-from-overseas workshops at every FAWCO Interim Conference, and has updated and distributed Guidelines for Voting Assistance Officers of FAWCO clubs.

2000: FAWCO's efforts to train volunteers and encourage voting from overseas in the November 7 General Election were maximized at our conference in Washington in March, where we combined forces with FVAP and the League of Women Voters. In her 1968 pamphlet entitled, The Americans Who Can't Vote, FAWCO Counsellor Elaine Senigallia asked: "If Americans abroad succeed in getting the vote, will they use it and use it well?" FAWCO is striving to prove that the answer is a resounding YES!


2006: Kathy Webster stepped down as Chir of the Voting from Overseas Committee, and was succeeded by Louise Greeley-Copley and then Mary Stewart Burgher (AWC Denmark), when Louise had to return to the U.S.

FAWCO’s efforts to support overseas voting took a leap into the 21st century when we formed an alliance with the new, nonpartisan Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF – https://www.overseasvotefoundation.org/overseas/home.htm) , which provided a wide range of secure, online services.

2008: OVF provided FAWCO with a licensed version of the OVF website (http://fawco.overseasvotefoundation.org), so we could offer all its services directly, and begin to measure our own online impact.

For more current information, direct from Washington check out the Federal Voting Assistance Program  or send an email to: .


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