x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Polls open for US expatriates in the UAE

Hundreds of US expatriates in the UAE are expected to cast their vote on Thursday, more than 30 days before the election.

Voters cast their ballots at a Franklin County polling site on Tuesday, on the first day of absentee voting in Columbus, Ohio.
Voters cast their ballots at a Franklin County polling site on Tuesday, on the first day of absentee voting in Columbus, Ohio.

DUBAI // Hundreds of US expatriates in the UAE are expected to cast their vote today, hours after the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney but more than 30 days before the election.

An absentee voters' election event will be held at the US consulate in Bur Dubai between 3pm and 5pm today, and expatriates are encouraged to bring their completed ballots along for the consulate to post to their respective states for free.

"Absentee voters can come and cast their ballot here," Rob Waller, the consul general, said on Tuesday.

An estimated 40,000 Americans are registered with the US missions in the UAE.

The consulate will also provide federal write-in ballots, an alternative for those overseas who registered to vote but did not receive ballots.

"This event is not just an opportunity to make them aware that they can use the consulate facility but also to let them know they can drop off the ballots here after [today]," said an embassy spokesman. "One of the services we are providing is a mail-back service."

The cost to courier a ballot back to the US is about Dh200.

A similar event was held at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi last Sunday. More than 200 people turned up, including many who came to register their intention to vote and pick up information on the voting process.

The turnout on Sunday surpassed expectations, an embassy spokesman said.

"We had hundreds of American citizens to register their votes," he said. "We would encourage all Americans to stop by and talk to us or visit our website."

US citizen Max Hendrickson was among those who dropped their ballots at the embassy. He said he cast his vote for Mr Obama.

"I'm mostly interested in my local elections but I voted for President Obama because I believe, as an American living abroad, he represents our country best to other nations," said Mr Hendrickson, who moved to the UAE in January.

"I think Republicans are too antagonistic in their foreign policy and their domestic policies are not representative of the best interests of the majority of Americans."

The consul general also addressed concerns of non-US citizens.

Mr Waller said the consulate had brought in changes to make it easier to apply for a US visa.

In July, applicants were upset about the long wait to schedule appointments for visit visas.

"We are aware of that feedback," Mr Waller said."We recently made some changes in our scheduling system, which I think have resolved that problem. It should be much easier for all of our visa applicants."

Last year, the embassy and the consulate processed more than 63,000 non-immigrant visa applications for tourists hoping to visit the US. Applications have increased by 50 per cent in the past four years.

Plans are in place for a new programme by January next year "to increase the ease" with which UAE residents can apply to travel to the US.

pkannan@thenational.ae