Disclaimer: This guide is provided for information purposes only, and is accurate to the best of my knowledge. However, all information should be verified with your local election officials before being accepted as fact.
With the November 4th elections coming around, this article is long overdue. However, if you have not yet requested your overseas absentee ballot, there is still time to do so. Voting is one of the great rights of being an American citizen, and you keep this right while residing overseas. You even have this right in many states if you are an American citizen but have never lived in the US (more on this later). We often take our vote for granted in the US. and have one of the lowest consistent turnouts of any country will a full right to vote. Panama had about 75-80% turnout of eligible voters in their most recent presidential election, while in the US we are lucky to get half, and less for a midterm election like this one. People all over the world are fighting and dying for their right to vote, so no matter your political persuasion, let’s not take it for granted. Different states have different deadlines for when you must submit your overseas ballot request, so please do not delay and complete your application and send it back ASAP. You can find your state deadline here.
Registering to receive your ballot overseas is a fairly straightforward process, and made easier by www.VoteFromAbroad.org. Although Vote From Abroad is a project of Democrats Abroad, it is a non-partisan voter registration site, and will help anyone who is trying to register with the process of filling out their forms (Full Disclosure: I am the secretary of Democrats Abroad Panama.) You only receive information from them if you opt in to receive it. In this article I’ll walk you through the process of using Vote from Abroad, as well as some sites where you can find more information about registering from abroad.
Your first step is to go to www.VotefromAbroad.org and this is the landing page you will find. the site is very simple and bare-bones to focus on the task of getting you registered. Click the “Start Here” button to continue.
If you have never lived in the US before, please make sure to select that option. You can vote in the majority of states in the US even if you have never lived in the US, along as your parents HAVE. If this is the case, you vote in their state and use their address information. Not all states allow US Citizens who have never lived in the US to vote there. To check if you are eligible, please see this list. If your state is not listed, you are not eligible to vote if you never lived in the US.
After you select your voter type, you will select your voting history. Here it’s important to declare if you have voted before or not, as if you are a new voter, your registration will be treated as a new registration, not just an absentee ballot request. This may change your submission deadline, based upon your state.
Next you will have to fill out your legal name, as well as your email and phone number. The email is especially important, since many states will send your ballot via email if you choose this method. When filling out your name, use your legal name. If you changed your name since you last voted, there is a section later to note that.
As you continue to scroll down, you’ll find more information you’ll need to fill out. It’s here where you can list your previous name if you have voted under a different name, and additional contact information if desired. You will be required to fill out your date of birth, gender, last US address and current address. Your last US address should be the last address that you lived in the United States. Your current address should be where you are currently residing overseas, not necessarily where you receive your mail. You will have the option to declare a separate mailing address below. You will also need to select your voting region, which will populate based on the state you were last registered in. In Florida at least, that is the county you voted in.
If you have a mailbox you receive mail at, you can include it in your ballot forwarding address. Once you have included this information (if desired), click on the continue option.
You have the option to add a password and create and account on Vote From Abroad. This is not mandatory, but will allow you to access your absentee ballot request if you need to reprint it or make changes (when putting together this guide, I realize that I accidentally selected my gender as female, and was easily able to go in and make the change). It will also allow you to easily reprint your request for new calendar years, since the absentee ballot request is only good for elections in the calendar year it is submitted. You will also be able to easily request your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) if you do not receive your printed ballot in time (more on this later).
In the next section, you will need to select your intended purpose of the form. Please select all that apply. You will also by instructed that upon completion, you must print out the ballot request, sign it, and mail it back to your local supervisor of elections office (their address will be provided by your completed form). Please check with your local election office if you can submit this form by fax or email. It is always safest to send a mailed hard copy as well. For your actual ballot, states will not allow you to email it back. If you are mailing your ballot request, it is required that it be postmarked from an overseas country, not mailed within the US (again, this is a good thing to check with your local election official about). All US consulates have a drop box where you can drop off your ballot request and they will mail it for you. To find you local election office contact information, click here.
On the next screen, you will have to choose your identification type. This is state specific, as different states have different requirements. In Florida, you need to provide your Florida Drivers License or ID card number, or if you don’t have either of those, the last 4 of your social security number.
Once you select your ID type, you will need to input it on the next screen.
On the next screen, you choose for which elections you would like to receive an overseas ballot, either for all elections this year, or just the next general election. While for most states there is only one election left this year, in some states they hold runoff elections at a post-November 4th date, so requesting for all elections this year is a good idea. Here you also choose the method you would like to receive your ballot from your local election office.
In the interest of saving space, I will skip the screenshots for the next couple of pages. They are all fairly straightforward. You will be asked to fill out some state specific questions. Florida requires you to affirm and oath that you will uphold the constitution and that all the information you are providing is true. After the state specific questions, the next page is a series of optional questions from Vote From Abroad that helps them better identify trends among overseas voters. You can answer these or ignore them. Then, you will get a page where you can leave optional comments for your election official, if you feel the need to clarify anything for them.
The next page is an information page where you can choose to sign up for Democrats Abroad, receive information from Democratic candidates, or receive general election reminders such as mailing deadlines from Vote From Abroad. As I mentioned earlier, Vote from Abroad is a non-partisan voter registration service offered by Democrats Abroad to all voters, and they will only send you political information if you choose to opt in on this page. If getting information from Democrats is not your thing, just indicate that you are not interested and you will complete your registration.
Lastly, once all of these pages are completed, your ballot will be ready for printing. The download link expires after 15 minutes or if you navigate away from the screen, so please download immediately.
Once you download the form, you MUST sign and date it before you send it to your local election office. I strongly recommend a 5 minute call to your local election office before you send the form to answer any questions you have for them. Again, you can find your local election office’s contact information by clicking here. The Federal Voter Assistance Guide will also help provide useful, state specific, information. Please make sure to send in your ballot request ASAP. Even though the election is 6 weeks away, with the speed of international mail, you are already running a tight deadline to send the ballot request form to your local election official, get your ballot in the mail, and mail your ballot back. Even if you’re reading this on November 1, you can still send an overseas absentee ballot request form and keep your registration active. In some states, this is an important step to remain a registered voter for future elections. This brings me to one other option to ensure your right to vote: the FWAB (Federal Write in Absentee Ballot).
Because of the issues with international mail around the world, all states are required to accept the Federal Write in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) if your ballot request has been received by your local election office and you have not received your ballot at least 30 days before the election. In the FWAB, you write in the races and names of candidates that you are voting for, and they will be accepted as votes for that race. If you do not know the name of the candidate, you can even write in the political party of the candidate and your vote will be accepted. For more information about the FWAB, you can visit this FAQ. This is also another item that is worth talking to your local election official about, as states vary in exactly how they allow the use of the FWAB.
Whatever your political persuasion, I hope you take your responsibility as an American citizen seriously, and exercise your right to vote this election season. It is one of the rights of your citizenship, so don’t let your vote go to waste.
You can begin your registration process at www.VoteFromAbroad.org.