For Taiwanese Americans, Voting Back Home Takes More Than a Postage Stamp

They are some of the most determined voters in the world.

Every four years, several thousand Taiwanese Americans book expensive plane tickets, pack their belongings and fly across the Pacific Ocean to cast ballots in Taiwan’s presidential election.

Dual citizens can vote in Taiwan, with one catch: They cannot do so by mail.

What once felt like a patriotic duty has taken on greater urgency in recent years as China has intensified military pressure on Taiwan and doubled down on threats to absorb the island by force if it deems necessary. The increasing tensions have become an additional flashpoint in U.S.-China relations.

“Freedom and democracy are on the line,” said Leslie Lai, 42, who had traveled from her home in Oakland, Calif., to Taichung, a city in central Taiwan, where she spoke by phone ahead of Saturday’s election.

For many first-generation Taiwanese Americans, the quadrennial journey back to Taiwan has become something of a diaspora tradition since 1996, when the island held its first democratic presidential elections. Ms. Lai said that as a child in upstate New York, she was always vaguely aware of the latest developments in Taiwanese politics and would watch her parents fly back themselves to participate in presidential elections.

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