A half-dozen Americans based outside the United States told The Washington Post that a defining aspect of life abroad in recent times has been watching attitudes toward America shift. Yet they expressed a degree of happiness to be overseas for the election, watching from afar as fraught politics destroy friendships and strain families.
Those interviewed expressed relative investment in the election, echoing a broader trend: The U.S. Vote Foundation, a nonprofit voter assistance organization, told The Post that it had received a higher-than-normal influx of queries, as voters fret over making sure their ballots get counted amid consular disruptions and postal slowdowns. According to a report by Vice, nearly every state expects to see a year-over-year spike in turnout among overseas voters, typically a disengaged demographic.
Donald and Maria Williams, 77 and 78, who have voted in every U.S. presidential election since they retired and moved from Arkansas to Mexico 14 years ago, said they were especially worried that their vote would get lost or fail to arrive in time.
Normally, the couple would submit their ballots by means of a diplomatic pouch organized by the U.S. Consulate, bound for Washington, to be sent on via the U.S. Postal Service to their polling place in Little Rock. Not this year.
“We just didn’t trust what was going on with the Postal Service,” Donald Williams told The Post from their home in the town of Tizapan el Alto. Instead, they drove some 50 miles to the nearest FedEx store, in Guadalajara.
Although President Trump has alienated many Mexicans over the past four years, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center — he launched his 2016 presidential campaign by smearing Mexican immigrants as rapists — the Williamses said that has not affected their relationships with Mexican neighbors.
Maria Williams moved to the United States from Germany when she was a teenager and still speaks with a strong German accent. Watching from south of the border, she cannot help but tie what’s going on in the United States to her childhood during World War II.
“With a German background — it’s been extremely difficult to see white supremacy on the rise in the United States,” she said.
Emily Newberg, 32, is also disturbed by what she sees back home, watching from her house in Popayán, Colombia. When Trump won in 2016, she was volunteering for earthquake relief efforts in Ecuador and has remained in Latin America ever since.
“Every day, every week, every month, every time you look at the news, there’s some new scandal, some new frustrating thing,” which makes the United States “more embarrassing,” she said.
She lives with her Colombian husband and their two young daughters in the country’s west, where she finds herself lying to taxi drivers about where she’s from.
“It’s like being embarrassed of your country instead of being proud of where you come from. I find it really challenging to be proud of the U.S.,” she said.
She categorizes herself as a “bad voter,” who skipped the 2016 election and plans to do so again. “My one vote’s not going to change it,” she said.
But she’s been following this year’s election as much as she can and encouraging friends back home in Illinois to vote.
She said she was baffled by the number of Colombians who still want to immigrate to the United States. “It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be,” she said she tells them.
For Rachel Grandi, 36, and her husband, Danny Budzinski, 35, who relocated to Amsterdam in 2017, where Budzinski works as a software engineer and Grandi works in alumni relations, having a baby in the Netherlands led to a realization: “There are things that are still a long way off for the U.S.”
Giving birth did not put her and her husband into debt, as it might have for some in the United States, Grandi said. But “you do get a little bit of bruised pride when people are making fun of your country,” she said. “People are laughing at us, and we deserve it.”
Grandi and Budzinski voted by mail this year. They were able to print out their ballots but received hard copies by mail, as well.
Daniel DeFossey, 41, based in Mexico City, who voted by fax, has built his identity in Mexico City on being an outsider. In 2013, the New York native started Pinche Gringo BBQ, a chain of barbecue restaurants scattered through the Mexican capital, which grabbed headlines in 2016 for throwing huge watch parties for the presidential debates that drew American expats and Mexicans alike.
Four years later, inhibited by the pandemic, DeFossey cannot stage a repeat performance, but he has started a YouTube show aimed at explaining U.S. politics to Mexico. One September episode endeavored to make sense of the electoral college.
“I feel a bit safer” not being in the United States, DeFossey said. “I can live in Mexico and then feel like there’s not so much polarization. It’s not destroying families and friendships.”
Even from thousands of miles away, even across an ocean, it can be hard to disconnect from the U.S. news cycle — even if you’re not American.
“It’s weird that I’m all the way over here and I’m still like freaked out,” said Sharen Lena Treutel, 59, who lives on the Greek island of Santorini. She’s turned her Canadian and French friends there on to MSNBC.
“The level of respect has really gone down,” she said.
The Williamses, content in their small town in Mexico, have no desire to return to the United States, regardless of who wins the election. Travel grows harder as they grow older. But they said they never stop caring about the politics of the country they still call “home.”
“I will stay involved until the end,” Maria Williams said. “To me voting is not a privilege, it’s an obligation.”