To Vote or Not to Vote: An International Dilemma 

Design by Cleo Maloney

It’s midterm season—both for college students and for the nation. Inboxes overflow with emails containing both due date reminders and calls to register for absentee voting by Yale Votes ambassadors. Though international students are able to discard the latter of these US-centric emails, voting remains a major obligation to their home countries. 

The geo-targeted news feeds that only suggest articles about the GOP and the DNC, the POTUS and AOC, typically make it hard for internationals to keep track of political life in their own countries. Yet, this past month, US news outlets have been bumping stories about major foreign political events. From Italy’s election of a new Prime Minister following the fall of the Draghi government, to Brazil’s polarizing presidential election between incumbent Jair Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, international politics are a topic of conversation, albeit a quiet one. 

For 90% of Yale’s undergraduate population, these stories about international happenings are just another headline in the New York Times. American political hegemony is to blame for this. But for the remaining 10%, elections like the ones just held in Italy and Brazil can completely change the course of their country’s future.

Beatriz De Souza Lobo Morgado Horta PC ’23, who traveled to the consulate in Hartford to cast her vote in Brazil’s presidential election two weeks ago, said she was glad to have had the ability to vote during such a historic moment for Brazil’s young democracy. She explained that voting in Brazilian elections, which is compulsory for all citizens 18 years of age or older, can get much more convoluted when a voter lives abroad. While you can abstain from voting by paying a 5 reais ($0.94) fine, Horta decided that this year, she was going to exercise her right to vote from Yale. 

“I have always enjoyed voting, so I decided that it would not only be the right thing to do, but also a unique experience to vote abroad,” Horta said. Horta described her status as a voter abroad as both a blessing and a curse. “It is definitely saddening to not be at home for such a huge event, especially since voting abroad means I am limited to voting for the president when the elections also include senators, governors and congressmen,” Horta explained. “However, it has been good to get some distance from the debates going on between both sides of the political spectrum in Brazil, which have become quite hostile in the past couple of months.” 

Vitoria Conde Rodrigues da Cunha  JE ’25, also voted in the Brazilian elections, but found herself in a more stressful situation than expected. “It was a stressful experience given that the election was so contested,” da Cunha said. “Also, watching from a distance makes it harder, because we aren’t able to gauge what Brazil is really going through.” 

Brazil is still waiting to elect its new President. Because neither candidate garnered the majority of votes in the first round, Bolsonaro and Lula will face off in a runoff vote on October 30th. The results, whatever they may be, will have far-reaching repercussions for the nation, which will reverberate across the South American political landscape. 

In my home country,  Italy, voting from abroad also poses another bureaucratic challenge: citizens living in a foreign country must register with the A.I.R.E—the Registry Office for Italians Living Abroad—and coordinate with the nearest Italian consulate in order to vote by post. Unlike their Brazilian counterparts, Italians abroad who decide not to exercise their right to vote—by choice or as a result of extenuating circumstances—can do so with no further trouble. 

As a result, few members of the Italian population at Yale participated in the election of Giorgia Meloni, first woman prime minister and most right-wing political leader since World War II.  “It was disappointing not to be able to vote,” said Elisabetta Formenton TC ’25. “A lot was at stake in this election, and had it not been so sudden, I would have set the paperwork in motion in order to participate.” The sudden nature of this election, which was originally slated for next spring, also contributed to the low turnout from Yalies. 

Politics around the globe can be frenetic, and momentous elections can pass by international students who find themselves removed from the action as a result of the distance and the bureaucratic nightmare that is paperwork.  

Voting internationally is a difficult landscape to navigate, even as more internationals take initiative and limbo under the red tape to exercise their rights as voters. Perhaps what we need are Yale Votes international ambassadors, who can guide students through the process of registering as voters abroad in their respective countries. Personally, I’d love to see an extra email about “international voting” in my inbox—an email not just destined for the trash.

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