In most national elections there is usually the option for voters to cast their ballot in foreign consulates. But as far as I can tell this is usually a mere formality as very few voters ever make use of that privilege and the "foreign" votes don't really affect anything.

But has there been an election where the foreign vote has had a deciding effect? Here "deciding" means that the vote margin among foreign votes is larger than (and opposite to) the margin of all in-country votes.

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    Would you accept the case where foreign voters used postal ballots? What about the case where foreign voters could have changed the outcome, if they had voted?
    – James K
    Jan 28, 2018 at 7:53
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    This question doesn't really mean anything. There are plenty of close elections, but all votes are the same. It's the total that counts, not where they were cast. For any case where you could say it was the foreign vote you could also probably isolate any other polling booth as the 'cause'.
    – user207421
    Jan 29, 2018 at 0:23
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    If your first sentence is true I don't know why you're asking the question. Your second sentence is manifestly false, as demonstrated in several counterexamples here.
    – user207421
    Jan 29, 2018 at 1:25
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    In some countries, votes from foreign countries are treated as a separate constituency, so those are always decided from vote in foreign consulates. E.g. Italy has 12 MP elected that way: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamber_of_Deputies_(Italy)
    – SJuan76
    Jan 29, 2018 at 10:00
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    "...the "foreign" votes don't really affect anything." Formally, "foreign" votes are indistinguishable from "home" votes. What you basically ask for is if ever an election was really close. I think yes, there are quite a few examples of that. Jan 29, 2018 at 11:39

4 Answers 4


The election of the US President in 2000 swung on the result in Florida, which Bush won by a majority of 537 (in the official count)

The system in the US is for foreign citizens to vote by post. Consulate voting is possible, but is only recommended if the postal system is considered to be unreliable. The overseas votes tend to favour Republicans, boosted by overseas military voters who tend to lean to the right.

Had all the overseas votes been ignored, then Al Gore would have become president.

To say that overseas voters had deciding effect is a little unfair. You could equally say that the result was decided by the voters of Bradford county, or any of a hundred other subgroups. This is the case when an election is very tight.

Florida state law requires that postal ballots have a clear postmark. One of the many contentious points in the recount process was how many postal votes should be rejected for not bearing a postmark, or the postmark being unclear. Republicans argued that the application of this law was disenfranchising soldiers stationed abroad. Democrats said that it was the simple application of a pre-existing law.

This was discussed in the New York Times "How Bush Took Florida Mining the Overseas Absentee Vote"

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    While I agree that in the US system foreign citizens frequently vote by mail, I think you meant to say that about expatriates. Jan 29, 2018 at 2:35
  • Letters from soldiers don't get a post mark? That seems like a strange system. Jan 29, 2018 at 21:21
  • If the vote was decided by one, then everyone on the winning team was necessary. I would not say that attributing the success of the election to the overseas voters is even a little unfair as every group was equally critical. Jan 29, 2018 at 21:43
  • @PaŭloEbermann They should, but the postmark might be smudged or otherwise unclear, or the postmark date might be after the election date (either because local post offices were slow in collecting the mail, or because some expats committed technical fraud by sending in their votes late) There are a number of other irregularties that might lead to a postal vote being rejected, but different counties seem to have interpreted the rules more or less strictly.
    – James K
    Jan 29, 2018 at 22:34
  • Okay, this applies to all citizens living abroad, not just soldiers? (So it is disenfranchising all people living abroad, including soldiers.) Jan 30, 2018 at 19:42

I am not sure about an absolute decisive vote part, but Romanian presidential elections (2014) were virtually decided by Romanian diaspora:

Romania's large diaspora of up to four million people played a key role in the election. Many expat voters were said to be disillusioned with Mr Ponta.

Current President obtained almost 90% of the votes in diaspora.

BBC article mentions about protests related to not being able to vote in certain foreign countries. These protests amplified by social media acted as a catalyst for vote turnover increase. I remember that media reported that some diaspora members called their friends and relatives in Romania and insisted to go to vote against the social-democrat candidate.

So, there is a good chance that diaspora decided the actual outcome, not only directly through vote (~90% against), but also by influencing internal votes.

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    If I'm reading the Romanian wiki article correctly, Romanian voters constituted only 1% of the vote while the difference between the candidates was 9%. Therefore their vote is irrelevant unless each of them managed to galvanize 8 other voters. Jan 28, 2018 at 17:48
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    @JonathanReez - vote diff between the candidates was about 1M. There were about 380K diaspora voters in the second round and about 340K voted for the winner. This roughly means that they contributed to about 1/3 of the vote difference. Clearly not fully decisive, but they had a significant contribution through their mobilization.
    – Alexei
    Jan 28, 2018 at 18:02
  • @JonathanReez - Also, it is important to notice that about 2M extra voters expressed their option in the second round.
    – Alexei
    Jan 28, 2018 at 18:04
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    Still, result would've been exactly the same if the consulates never voted in the first place. Jan 28, 2018 at 20:57
  • @JonathanReez: Even if those voters themselves didn't swing the election on their own, the mere fact of them having votes and being part of the target audience for campaigns affected the whole process. Michael_B's answer pointing out that it's common for Ecuadorean presidential candidates to campaign overseas is fascinating and highly relevant. There are indirect effects on the whole election process from having expats entitled to a vote. Jan 29, 2018 at 13:17

Ecuador is a South American country with a population of 16.4 million.

source: World Bank

There are 1.1 million Ecuadoreans living in three other countries:

  • 100,000 in Italy
  • 500,000 in Spain
  • 500,000 in the U.S.

It's common for Ecuadorean presidential candidates to campaign overseas.

source: CSMonitor

I don't have exact voting figures, but with such a high population in the diaspora and candidates leaving the country to win their votes, I think it's safe to say that Ecuadorean expatriates make a difference in their country's national elections.

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    Well, there's about 5% of Czechs abroad, but the turnover of them is very low due to missing voting options. So the mere existence of expats does not mean anything.
    – yo'
    Jan 29, 2018 at 17:50
  • @yo', in this case, candidates consider expats to be important enough for them to leave the country to court their support. So I wouldn't agree that the existence of these expats "does not mean anything". Jan 29, 2018 at 21:19

I think that the Iraqi parliamentary election in january 2005 would count. (wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraqi_parliamentary_election,_January_2005)

It was an election where a large part of voters voted in foreign territory and it would likely have quite an influence on the result, though it will be hard to prove exactly how it influenced the result.

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