Absentee Voting Information for U.S. Citizens Abroad
New regulations for overseas voting went into effect in 2010. If you want to be able to vote while you are outside the United States, you should send a completed Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to your local election officials every year. It’s easy to do – just go to http://www.fvap.gov/, the official U.S. Government website for overseas absentee voting information, to start the process.
We strongly recommend you get in the habit of submitting a new FPCA every January to ensure you receive ballots for all the elections in which you are eligible to vote during the calendar year. In addition to the November general elections held every other year, you may be eligible to vote in federal or state primary elections, special elections, emergency elections, and runoff elections.
Absentee Voting Basics
Absentee voting is a simple four or five step process.
- You send in a completed FPCA to your local election officials
- They confirm your eligibility to vote, and put your name on a list to receive absentee ballots
- They send you a blank absentee ballot by mail and make it available electronically
- You complete the ballot and send it back before the ballot receipt deadline
- If your ballot fails to arrive, use the emergency federal write-in ballot to vote
Registration/Absentee Ballot Request
To vote from abroad, you have to register to vote with local election officials in your state of legal (voting) residence, AND every year you should ask to receive absentee ballots. You can use one form to do both – the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). Submit a new FPCA every time you move, change your address, change your e-mail, or change your name.
To complete and address the form, go to either the FVAP or the Overseas Vote Foundation websites, where an online assistant walks you through the process. You can also pick up an FPCA and a copy of your state’s requirements from any U.S. embassy or consulate, or from many overseas U.S. citizen civic or political groups.
Your state may allow you to submit your FPCA via mail, fax, or e-mail. (See Voting and Returning Your Ballot below for options.) Consult the State/Territory Election Websites for your state’s current requirements. If you need help completing or submitting the form, contact the voting assistance officer at the closest U.S. embassy or consulate, or check additional resources available on the Federal Voting Assistance Program website.
Receiving Your Blank Absentee Ballot
The law now requires states to send ballots to overseas citizens 45 days before the general election, except under emergency circumstances. The timeframe for mailing out ballots for other elections is shorter. The law also requires states to make your blank ballots available electronically either by fax, e-mail, or internet download. On the FPCA, there is space for you to let local officials know how you would like to receive your ballots. Depending on your state and your status abroad, you may receive absentee ballots for all elections, or just ballots for elections for federal offices only.
Voting and Returning Your Ballot
Complete your ballot carefully and legibly, and return it to your local election officials before your state’s ballot receipt deadline. Overseas voters have a number of options for returning voted ballots:
- Local mail – If you live in an area with efficient mail service to the United States, you can affix sufficient international postage to your ballot envelope and mail it promptly.
- U.S. Embassy Pouch/Army Postal Service (APO/FPO) – Official election ballot envelopes that bear postage-paid markings can be returned via U.S. diplomatic pouch or Military Postal Service free of charge. You can also print out and use an envelope with postage-paid markings (PDF 139 KB). NOTE: You’ll need to submit your ballot in person to your closest U.S. embassy or consulate. Please contact the consular section for specific instructions and hours of availability in your country.
- Fax, E-mail, or Internet – A number of states now allow the return of voted ballots via electronic means. Consult the State/Territory Election Websites for electronic transmission options for your state.
- Express Courier Service – If time is short or local mail is unreliable, you can use professional courier services such as FedEx, DHL, or UPS. Check the Overseas Vote Foundation website for information about reduced rates for voters. NOTE: FedEx does not deliver to P.O. boxes.
Using an Emergency Write-In Ballot
Don’t be a passive voter and wait for a ballot that may not reach you in time. If you followed all the right steps but still haven’t received your ballot 30 days before the election, you should complete and submit a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). Contact the Voting Assistance Officer at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for help, or download the FWAB here (PDF 348 KB), write in the candidates of your choice, and send it to your local election officials. If your regular absentee ballot arrives later, fill it out and mail it back too. Your FWAB will be counted only if your regular ballot doesn’t reach your local election officials by your state’s ballot receipt deadline. Proper submission of both ballots will not invalidate your vote or result in two votes being cast.
Most U.S. citizens 18 years or older who reside outside the United States are eligible to vote absentee for candidates for federal offices in U.S. primary and general elections. In addition, some states allow overseas citizens to vote for candidates for state and local offices, as well as for state and local referendums. For information regarding your specific state, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s Voting Assistance Guide or the Overseas Vote Foundation website. The Overseas Vote Foundation is a non-partisan voter advocacy organization.
Each U.S. state has its own voting eligibility and residency requirements. Visit the FVAP website for information regarding your state of legal residence. For voting purposes, your state of legal residence is generally the state where you resided in immediately before leaving the United States, even if you no longer own or rent property or intend to return there in the future. Some states specifically allow U.S. citizens who have never resided in the United States to register where a parent would be eligible to vote. Direct your questions about eligibility to your local election officials.
Role of Local Election Officials
All elections in the United States are run at the state and local level. Local election officials in your state of legal (voting) residence receive your FPCA and verify your eligibility to register/vote in that locality. If they have questions about your form or your eligibility to vote using the U.S. address you’ve provided, they’ll e-mail you. It’s smart to send in your form early (ideally, at the beginning of the calendar year, or least forty-five days before the election) to provide time to process your request and resolve any problems. Once approved, your name will be put on a list of voters to receive absentee ballots.
Verifying Your Registration
Many states now have websites where you can verify your registration. If you are unsure of your voter registration status, or want to confirm that local officials have received and approved your registration, check the FVAP website for a directory of available state voter registration verification websites. You can also call or write your local election officials directly.
Be an Educated Voter
Check out the FVAP links page for helpful resources that will aid your research of candidates and issues you care about. Non-partisan information about candidates, their voting records, and their positions on issues is widely available and easy to obtain via numerous websites such as Project Smart Voter. You can also read national and hometown newspapers on-line or search the Internet to locate articles and information. For information about election dates and deadlines, subscribe to FVAP’s Voting Alerts. FVAP also shares Voting Alerts via Facebook and Twitter.
Voting and Taxes
Voting for candidates for federal offices does not affect your federal or state tax liability. Voting for candidates for state or local offices could affect your state tax liability. Consult legal counsel if you have questions.
Summary of Recent Changes to Absentee Voting
New legislation eliminated a requirement for states to send out absentee ballots for successive election cycles based on a single request. To be assured that your request for absentee ballots is current, FVAP urges voters to submit new FPCAs every year. Beginning with the November 2010 general elections, states and territories are now required to send ballots to overseas citizens 45 days before an election except under emergency circumstances. They are also required to make your blank ballot available electronically either by fax, e-mail, or internet download.