US citizens eyeing events across the Atlantic
14:38 17 October 2016
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It was a sign outside a cafe which summed up international politics for one of the region’s Americans abroad.
It claimed that America and Britain were in a race to see who could hurt themselves the most, concluding Britain was in the lead – but America had the Trump card.
With just weeks to go until the US election, ballot papers are starting to arrive for the region’s overseas US citizens.
It is hard to know how many people in this region will vote in the extraordinary US contest, but official statistics estimate about 5,000 US-born people live in Norfolk, with 11,000 living in Suffolk. The region is home to two vast US airbases, where servicemen and women are also being helped to have their say.
Michael Frazer, a lecturer in social and political theory at the University of East Anglia who lives in Norwich, is one American watching events across the Atlantic with interest.
He says it has been a stressful time which had been bad for his sleep patterns because of the timing of the television debates.
He has watched in horror at the tone of the debate – relieved that his son had missed the first part of the last debate which had seen the two main candidates – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – trade blows, with Mrs Clinton declaring his aggressively vulgar comments about women had revealed “exactly who he is”.
The academic is originally from New York, but left a couple of decades ago and moved to the UK from Boston just over a year ago.
He says his son is desperate to distance himself from the Republicans because his classmates know he is American and he is worried that they will think he likes Trump. Because of state tax rules Dr Frazer is not registered to vote. His last address – the state in which US citizens abroad vote – was in Massachusetts, meaning, he says, his vote would not make much difference anyway. It is solidly Democrat.
“Your vote only really matters if you lived in a swing state,” he said, making it clear that if he had a vote in a state like Ohio, which will be one of the places the election is decided, he would have made sure he had a ballot paper.
He reflects that while there is talk about the cultural differences between Britain and the US, the cultural differences between US states was much bigger.
“It really does feel like America is an ideologically segregated place,” he adds. Hedoes not know anybody on Facebook who supported Donald Trump, because he is from a politically homogenous area – although it is a different matter for his wife, who is originally from a small town in Colorado.
But the 37-year-old points out that there are even more conflicts in this year’s election. He knows “evangelical academics” who were distraught as they didn’t feel they could support Hillary Clinton either. And Mormon academics in Utah who were turning their backs on Donald Trump.
But he says Mrs Clinton is not a figure who should come as a surprise to anyone or be a source of shame for anyone.
And while he claims to be “philosophically opposed to predictions”, he is increasingly hopeful the election “will go fine”.
“My fear of Trump having a victory is decline,” he said. But amid Mr Trump’s rhetoric about it being a rigged election, he remains concerned about what happens the next day, and what Trump supporters might say about the election being illegitimate.
At Suffolk’s two US airbases, officials are working hard to make sure that the US citizens are able to exercise their democratic right.
At Royal Air Force Lakenheath – the largest US Air Force-operated base in England – the Liberty Wing consists of more than 4,500 active-duty military members, nearly 2,000 British and US civilians and includes a geographically-separated unit at nearby RAF Feltwell.
At RAF Mildenhall there are about 3,100 US military and 3,000 family members, and a further 800 civilians, including some US citizens.
Like other military personnel abroad, they will have to cast their vote through absentee ballots.
At Lakenheath, voting representatives have been making sure that the servicemen and women are informed about what the process is.
Every US state has slightly different processes for how you get your ballot, which means they have to contact the district of their “home record”. They send their current mailing address and they send you a card in the post.
It is not just the presidential election which those living on the bases are helped to participate in.
According to their state there will be a date that the servicemen and women and other US citizens living on the base have to have their ballot postmarked by in order to count.
While they can be helped with information, it is ultimately up to each individual to check their mail and sort out their ballot paper.
But like any official role, there are regulations about what military personnel can and cannot do.
They would not be allowed to go to a rally in uniform, but they can be politically active outside of duty hours in plain clothes as an individual.