How Are We Counted?
Let Us Count the Ways
The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) estimates that there are 4.5 million to 6.5 million overseas Americans while the State Department's most recent calculation (April 2015) of US citizens living overseas is 8.7 million
The State Department calculations are based on estimates from passport applications and birth registrations at embassies and consulates, and a variety of other sources. One source is consular registration, a practice more common in high-risk countries (Columbia, Iraq) than in low risk (France, Spain). Also unknown is whether the State Department includes dual citizens in its estimates,
By a quirk of fate, most Americans residing abroad have not been included in the decennial US census since 1970, shortly before overseas Americans gained their right to vote in federal elections. Prior to that, varying stances had been taken over the years. An excellent report on the historical background by Karen M. Mills was published in 1997: Americans Overseas in US Censuses.
Hence, estimates are often reached by extrapolating from existing data such as the number of passports issued overseas, the number of reports of birth abroad filed in consular sections, or the number of Social Security payments made to recipients abroad or just plain guesswork. Estimates vary between 3 and 10 million. See also on this subject the issue of the Overseas Vote Foundation's Research Newsletter devoted to "The American Diaspora."
Basically, the Census Bureau is not constitutionally mandated to count Americans abroad. Under pressure from ACA and other overseas American groups, the Census Bureau first considered "Issues of Counting Americans Overseas in Future Censuses" in a 2001 paper, then carried out a test enumeration in 2004 of Americans in France, Kuwait and Mexico, which could only be characterized as a flop. That lead to a series of GAO publications: in May 2004, "Overseas Enumeration Test Raises Need for Clear Policy Direction" ; in August 2004, "Counting Americans Overseas as part of the Decennial Census Would not be Cost Effective" ; and finally in September 2004, "2010 Census: Counting Americans overseas as Part of the Census Would not be Feasible."
So what were the criteria for counting overseas Americans in the 2010 census? The Census Bureau lists on their website "How we count America":
- US citizens living outside the US who are employed as civilians by the US Government, including dependents living with them - Counted as part of the US overseas population. They should not be included on any US census questionnaire.
- US citizens living outside the US who are not employed by the US Government, including dependents living with them - Not counted in the census.
- US military personnel living on or off a military installation outside the US, including dependents living with them - Counted as part of the US overseas population. They should not be included on any US census questionnaire.
- US military personnel on US military vessels with a homeport outside the US - Counted as part of the US overseas population. They should not be included on any US census questionnaire.
US Vote Foundation Research Newsletter
The US Vote Foundation has premiered a publication: its Research Newsletter, edited by Research Director Claire M. Smith.
The research section of the US Vote Foundation website was launched in February 2009. The Foundation aims to create a clearinghouse for UOCAVA research and to provide access to a broad range of relevant overseas and military voting research.