How Americans Can Vote From Abroad
Updated: Sep 16
The second time I was able to vote in an United States election was way back in 2004. Bush, Jr. was up for re-election, 'weapons of mass destruction' had become the media's favorite catch phrase, and I was an ambitious young voter determined to do my part to get 'Dubya' out of office. One day I snuck away from work, filled out my ballot, signed the envelope and paid extra for expedited delivery. And off it went, that cheap envelope full of hopes and dreams. When election night finally rolled around, I sat in front of the television with friends to eagerly await the results, hoping that we didn’t experience another recount disaster as was the case the first time I voted back in 2000. Come to find out there was no recount, however, mine was amongst a countless number of other mail-in Florida ballots that were not counted in the end anyway. At this point my first two experiences with voting were memorable, to say the least, and traumatic at most.
Which is why now that I’m living outside of the US, an absentee voting veteran, I’ve decided it is my patriotic duty to share with our readers just how to vote from abroad.
First, let it be known that mail-in voting fraud is rare, but, you do need to know what you’re doing because if you don't do it right, your vote might not get counted. Did you know that depending on the state that you’re eligible to vote in, you can receive an absentee ballot by email, fax or via download? But take note, however, that 22 states don’t offer those options as a way to submit your vote, and thus require that you mail in a physical ballot.
But before you can participate in the democratic process, you need to know your voting state of residence.
If You’re a Citizen Residing Outside the U.S.
What is a voting residence and why is it important?
You need a voting residence to vote by absentee ballot — even if you are only voting for federal offices. Your election office needs your exact voting residence address to determine which offices and candidates you are eligible to vote for — and to send you the appropriate ballot for your voting precinct.
Your voting residence is your address in the state in which you were last domiciled, immediately prior to leaving the United States. This residence may remain valid even if:
You no longer own property or have other ties to that state.
Your intent to return to that state is uncertain.
Your previous address is no longer a recognized residential address.
If you cannot remember the address where you last physically resided, check old tax records, passports, or family correspondence. Sometimes election offices can help identify your address if you were previously registered.
To claim a new legal residence or domicile, consult legal counsel as there may be other factors to consider, such as tax implications.
Students studying abroad
If you are living overseas for an extended period during an election season and will need to vote absentee, use the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to request your absentee ballot. Your voting residence will continue to be your last residence prior to leaving the United States to study abroad.
Register to vote and request your ballot in one easy step
And it really is easy! Fill out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and send it to your election office. Then wait for your ballot to come in. That’s it! Using the FPCA ensures that your state will send your ballot to you at least 45 days before the election.
Notice that if you're mailing in your vote from outside of the U.S. the legal requirement is that it be POSTMARKED by election day, that is to say, by November 3. But given the state of the U.S. postal service, your standard delays in international shipping, and the fact that 2020 has been a year fraught with unexpected surprises, the professionals over at Democrats Abroad recommend you drop your ballot in the mail no later than Monday, September 21, 2020.
Of course any and all of your questions about voting from abroad can be answered in detail by visiting the Democrats Abroad website. And no, you don’t have to be a Democrat to benefit from the information offered on the site.
And now that you’re ready to participate in democracy — or rather, in a democratic republic — get out there and vote!