Are you a U.S. citizen living abroad during an election year?
As the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees are pretty much set before us, you’re probably going to listen closely during those presidential candidate debates, watch the political bantering on Sunday morning talk shows, and read online news publications about the important issues, such as race relations, income inequality, trade issues, immigration, and a ton of other topics that could make this list go on forever.
Then you know how important it is to vote in November, especially during a presidential election year. (Let me say that it’s just as important to vote during mid-term election years, but PEW statistics state that the U.S. has a higher turnout rate during presidential election years; however, I’ll save that conversation for another day.) Unlike our Cypriot friends who have to vote, as voting is compulsory, it’s completely up to the American citizen to register, go to a polling center, and turn in a ballot.
This means, your vote is important. Very important.
What do you do if you want to vote but are planning to live abroad?
You can vote by absentee ballot.
It's about 90 days before the general election in the U.S. You're #livingabroad #overseas. Do you need some #advice and #traveltips to help you #vote by #absenteeballot? Click on #linkinbio to read more about the process and see if you meet the eligibility requirements. . . . . #travelblogger #travel #igtravel #expat #expatliving #expatfamily #abroadlife #voterregistration #voteearly #voteoften #voting #votingrights #registertovote #traveling #lifeofexpat #embassy #usembassy #countyclerk #election2016 #generalelection #election #electionday #presidentialelection
FUN TRIVIA FACT: In 1997, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that allowed Texans to send in absentee ballots from outer space. If you ever plan to take a trip in space, your vote is taken care of.
How do I start the Absentee Ballot Process?
1. Register to vote in your home state.
First, you need to be registered to vote. There are several ways you can register:
- Fill out your form at Rock the Vote or via Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP)
- Mail in your registration form to your local county clerk’s office
- Walk-in to your local DMV/local county clerk’s office in your home state
2. Be Eligible to Vote by Absentee Ballot
To be eligible to vote by absentee ballot, you have to meet these basic qualifications:
- be a U.S. citizen.
- be at least 18 years old.
- be absent from your voting residence.
Here are some additional qualifications to vote by absentee ballot:
- an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine;
- an eligible spouse or family member of an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine; or
- a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S.
Do you qualify to vote by absentee ballot?
3. Register for an absentee ballot
Each state has specific rules about absentee voting, but you can check out the specifics in your state by going to Rock the Vote’s Election Center. Scroll all the way to the bottom, look for your state, and click on the link to read more. Depending on your state, you can send in your absentee ballot request form via:
4. Mail-In your Absentee Ballot
Your local clerk’s office can either e-mail, mail, or fax your absentee ballot 45 days before the general election. (Check with your local office to make sure which method of delivery is available.) 30 days before the election, if you have not received your ballot, you should contact your nearest U.S. embassy (voting assistance officer) to fill out a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).
Once you receive your absentee ballot, it’s important to turn in your ballot early. You have to mail in your ballot by the voting deadline. (NOTE: Some places require your absentee ballot be received before 8:00 pm (some by 2:00 pm, etc.), so send your absentee ballot in early.) Not sure where you can mail your ballot? Here are some options:
- State Department Consulate’s Office or U.S. Embassy
- Snail Mail (good old fashioned way) to your state for free!
- APO Box (for military personnel overseas)
- Fax, email, or website (Check to see if your state allows you do vote online.)
How We Did It
I registered to vote via Rock the Vote. Rock the Vote’s website was easy to navigate and sent me email reminders about mailing in my form. About a week later, I called my local county clerk’s office to confirm that I am a registered voter. We were leaving for Budapest within a week, so I knew I had to turn in my absentee ballot request form in-person. I asked her where I can turn in the absentee request form, and she pointed me to my local county clerk’s office.
Prof had submitted his filled out pdf form to the local clerk’s office, but when we stopped by, they had not yet received the form via snail mail. Good thing, too, because the clerk’s office had to verify our information since it had been four years. She handed us a different form to ensure that they could send us our absentee ballots via electronically. (Thank goodness Michigan is one of the states in which you can receive an absentee ballot via email.)
Nowadays, when we want to automate everything and go virtual, some things still have to be done in-person. Before you travel, visiting your local county clerk’s office is the best way to go. You can handle any issues because you are present to answer any questions, and the clerk’s office can verify that you are intending to vote via absentee.
1. When should I start the absentee registration process?
The State Department recommends filing every January to get your paperwork taken care of promptly and smoothly. You never know if your registration form gets lost in the mail or if the fax/email gets lost in transmission. Don’t wait until the last minute. I waited until the week of our departure for Hungary, and I felt a little stressed. Go sooner, so you won’t have to feel the stress of trying get all your other errands done in the last week of your departure.
Upon publishing this post, it will be about 90 days before the general election. There is no time to waste. You may still have time to vote in the general election, but it all depends on the rules and regulations to register to vote in your home state.
2. What if I turned in my absentee ballot request form, but I still have not received my absentee ballot from my home state?
If you haven’t received your ballot 30 days before the election, you can write-in your vote.
3. What if I have lived abroad for most of my life but have never resided in the U.S.?
You check your parent’s last home state of residence. The Federal Voting Assistant Program has a listing of states that you can check on whether you are eligible or not.
Remember, one of the privileges of being an American is your right to vote. You’ve got all the information and tools here, so there’s no time to waste. Let’s exercise our 15th amendment right to vote, whether you are home or abroad.