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Voting is the expression of our commitment to ourselves, one another, this country and this world. — Sharon Salzberg

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As an American grateful for all my country has given me and hopeful for its future, I look forward to casting my ballot in the 2016 presidential elections. Did you know The United States ranks 120th of the 169 countries for which data exists on voter turnout? And that only about 60% of eligible voters cast their votes in the presidential general election, and that percentage is lower still for the primaries?

How to Vote in the US Election From Abroad

This post is for my fellow US citizens who will be traveling or living abroad during the upcoming presidential primaries and federal election. First, let’s get a few basics clear.

• YES, qualified votes can cast their ballot from abroad.

• YES, every state has different deadlines and procedures.

• NO, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been outside the US. (US citizens who have never resided in the US are now eligible to vote, in some states!)

• NO, there are not tax repercussions to voting in the general election. (That said, some states consider voting in state or local elections to qualify you to pay state taxes. Look into your particular district for details.)

While the general election on November 8th 2016 might feel far in the future, primary season is already underway. For some states, this post has already missed the primary election deadline – if so, read on for a possible alternative way to get your vote in for primary season! (For those that are a little unclear on this, US elections run on a two-step system. First, a primary election is held in each state to determine which candidate will be nominated by their political party. Next, a general election is held where each of those nominees vie to be the next President of the United States.)

Want to make your voice heard and your vote count? You can, no matter where you are in the world. Read on for details.

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The ballot is stronger than the bullet. — Abraham Lincoln

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What if I’m just on vacation?

If you’re still residing within the US and will just be out of your voting district for a short window of time that happens to overlap with an election, you may qualify for early voting. Check the requirements for early voting in your specific state here.

How to Vote in the US Election From Abroad

What if I’m living abroad or traveling long term?

Voting via absentee ballot was once an unpleasant mission braved only by the most determined voters. Today, it’s easier than ever – how easy, exactly, depends on what state you register in.

Here’s a blow by blow of how to vote by absentee ballot.

1. Check your registration. If you think you’re already registered, you can confirm here. If not, don’t stress – you can do so in combination with step two, below. Not sure what state to register and vote in? For voting purposes, your state of legal residence is generally the state you last resided in before leaving the United States, even if you no longer own or rent property there or even intend to return there in the future. Read the state requirements carefully, especially if you plan to vote in the primary election – some states require you to declare a party in order to do so.

2. Download the FPCA form. This form acts as both voter registration for those that are not yet registered, AND an absentee ballot request. You must fill this form out for each year in which you wish to vote absentee. Ideally, you should get into the habit of doing so every January, but whoops – better late than never. The following websites not only assist you in preparing and completing your FPCA form, they were also extremely informative in putting together this blog post.

fvap.gov – a US government website, the Federal Voting Assistance Program

overseasvotefoundation.org – a nonpartisan nonprofit voter registration tool

usvotefoundation.org – another nonprofit, nonpartisan voter registration tool

votefromabroad.org – another nonprofit, nonpartisan voter registration tool provided as a public service by Democrats Abroad

How to Vote in the US Election From Abroad

3. Return the FPCA form. Some states allow you to return the FPCA by email, other by fax (which would be really handy for an election in the 1980s), others still require a hard copy sent by mail. Check your state’s requirements on the FVAP Voting Assistance Guide for your state’s current instructions. Don’t be shy about reaching out to your closest U.S. embassy or consulate if you need assistance.

4. Get the ballot. While filling out the FPCA, you’ll have the option to request electronic ballot delivery. Do so, and you’ll receive your blank ballot 45 days before general and mid-term elections and generally 30 days before special, primary, and run-off elections for federal offices.

Note! Set an alarm on your phone for 30 days before each election you wish to vote in. If you haven’t received your blank ballot by then, use the emergency Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote.

5. Return the ballot. Again, the procedures vary by state. While many states allow electronic ballot submission, some require a hard copy to be delivered by mail (including my own home state of New York). Don’t let this small hassle dissuade you from voting – while I hope all states eventually move towards accepting electronic submission for absentee ballots, allow the mundane to become an adventure — I have many fond memories of visiting post offices in foreign countries.

Note! What if you don’t trust the mail in the country you’re living or traveling? Another option is to drop off – or have someone else drop off — your ballot request and/or voted ballot at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you use one of postage-paid envelopes available on the FVAP web site, you will not have to pay for postage.  Contact your closest Embassy for specific instructions.

How to Vote in the US Election From Abroad

What’s this whole Global Primary thing all about?

If you’re a democrat living overseas and you wish to vote in the democratic presidential primaries, you have an alternative option to voting by absentee ballot in your home state. Democrats Abroad will hold a Global Presidential Primary from March 1-8, 2016, with ballots cast by email, fax, post, or in-person at Voting Centers in countries around the globe. Those ballots will be used to select a total of twenty-one delegates sent by Democrats Abroad to the Democratic National Convention this July (for comparison’s sake, see this map of how many delegates each state sends to each convention.)

Why vote in the Global Presidential Primary rather than vote absentee in your home state? There are several reasons this might be of interest to you:

• You prefer the camaraderie of voting in person.
• You vote in a state that requires ballots to be returned by mail and you prefer the ease of voting by email.
• You missed the deadline for your voting state’s primary.

Unfortunately, the democratic party is the only party that has made this option available to their overseas voters — republicans and independents will have to vote by absentee ballot.

Who do I vote for?

I highly recommend the non-partisan site I Side With for those struggling with which candidate to vote for. Even if you know who you’ll be casting your ballot for already, it’s a fun and informative way to explore which issues are most important to you, and to learn more about them (just press the question mark next to questions you’d like more information on). Also fun? Looking through the results of the millions of citizens who have taken the political issues polls.

How will I reward myself for voting if I don’t get one of those adorably fashionable “I Voted” stickers?

This is indeed a true dilemma. While you can always go all out and order some online in anticipation of the big day, a more practical solution might be to post a graphic on Facebook, or to fashion a badge of your own out of whatever local craft supplies might be available in your current destination.

Okay, fine, I’m perhaps being a tad sarcastic. But come election day, you certainly do deserve to give yourself a round of applause. Grab whatever American (or, you know, American-ish) snacks you can get your hands on, find a TV or internet connection to live stream the results coverage from, and be proud of doing your civic duty, even from afar.

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I will vote my hopes and not my fears. — Herb Kohl

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The more I travel, the more appreciate I become of hailing from a country where I have the right to cast a ballot each and every election. I’ve been an eligible voter for two presidential elections now, and I loved every minute of voting in my registered district in Brooklyn; the camaraderie in the lines that snaked outside the building, the tears that welled up when I got behind those curtains, and the thrill of watching the results roll in throughout the evening. This April, I’ll be voting absentee in the primaries for the first time ever, from Brazil. This November, I’m not yet sure where in the world I’ll be.

But I know my vote will be counted, regardless of GPS coordinates.

How to Vote in the US Election From Abroad

Have you ever voted via absentee ballot?
What was your experience?

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64 Comments...
  • Chris
    February 25 2016

    Great post, very informative and useful! Now I need to look up when Michigan’s primaries are (as well as start to pay a bit more attention to the candidates haha)
    Chris recently posted..Angkor Wat’s small circuit – Legends of the Hidden Temples Part II

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      Check the links 🙂 All the info you could need and more is on the sites I linked to!

  • Joella
    February 25 2016

    Great advice, Alex! I always make sure I vote in the UK elections. We have Proxy voting there so my mum is currently appointed to vote on my behalf. So much easier. I’m really enjoying being in the US for my first election year. As a Lawful Permanent Resident I am not allowed to vote this time (next time if I get dual citizenship) but I love politics so it’s still interesting (and somewhat baffling at times!). 🙂
    Joella recently posted..Laguna de Apoyo: Nicaragua’s Beautiful And Clean Swimming Hole

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      Oh man! Proxy voting?! Amazing. I wish we had that in the US… though my mom might not be happy to have another administrative task to do for me, ha ha.

  • Kathryn Allen
    February 25 2016

    Wow, lots of research you did on this one. Bravo for your citizenship service! It’s easy to get cynical about politics – especially THIS year in the US – but you reminded me that the very fact that we have elections is never to be taken for granted.

    And while I have the eyeballs of people all over the world, please know that while the US must look like an insane asylum during this election cycle, there really is a majority of normal, peace loving people who are working steadily and quietly towards our “more perfect union” and who are mortified by the hate and fear mongers who are getting so much press.

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      Watching it all from afar is definitely makes it feel a bit like I’m watching a weird reality show. It’s just a dream, right, the one with the weird hair?!

  • Claire
    February 25 2016

    If you’re an american reading this I beg you to not vote for trump. He is absolute trash, racist, sexist, and overall, an idiot.

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      I tried to be as neutral and non-partisan as I could in this post but… I’m not disagreeing!

    • Diane Bazzano
      September 22 2016

      I advise you to get educated before making that statement.

      • Alex
        September 22 2016

        Hi Diane, I consider myself fairly politically educated and I have not read a single piece of literature nor seen a single thing with my eyes that would make me consider Donald Trump qualified to run for president.

    • geri boisvert
      October 7 2016

      If you’re an american reading this I beg you VOTE for trump. He is absolute ADORABLE, TRUTHFUL, GENEROUS, A LION, and someone who will work for the American YoU!! as opposed to the GLOBALISTS!

  • Rachel
    February 25 2016

    Very interesting! I never thought much about absentee ballots for traveling out of the country. I did take advantage of it when I was in college in NY though!
    Rachel recently posted..A Quick Stop in Bratislava

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      I only tuned 18 once I was at college, so I registered and voted for the first time there. I should probably re-register at my mom’s address which I use for all business stuff now, but I haven’t taken the time!

  • Rachel Elizabeth
    February 25 2016

    Whoa, Alex! You did a lot of research on this one! Great work! If I ever decide to teach at an international school, I’ll so check out this post again.

    Voting is so important. I wish we had a high voter turnout in the USA. 🙁
    Rachel Elizabeth recently posted..Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      Thanks for noting it, Rachel Elizabeth! It was a lot of research, but I enjoyed it — helped me answer a lot of questions I had, too!

  • Kristen
    February 25 2016

    The Primary process is especially important this year … vote people!

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      Indeed it is. Excited to cast my ballot from afar!

  • Polly
    February 25 2016

    Thanks for this post! I voted absentee the first year I was eligible to, as a freshman at Pratt – sending my ballot home to Virginia was easy. I stayed up late with my suitemate to watch the returns and ended up going to bed when it became clear it wasn’t going to be decided as quickly as the last few elections. The following morning, I was beyond bitter at all of my classmates that voted for Nader.
    Polly recently posted..Cape Breton National Park

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      I turned 18 at Pratt, and voted there in Brooklyn for the first time ever in 2008! I waited in line for hours but the energy was so high, it was an amazing afternoon and a fantastic night as the returns came in. A memory I’ll cherish!

  • Ijana
    February 25 2016

    Good info! I lived in Germany as a kid and remember my parents going insane over the annoying voting absentee process; glad to hear it’s gotten better, even though I’m gonna vote stateside.

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      I’ve heard it used to be a nightmare! While absentee voting is getting easier, it’s frustrating to see so many laws enacted that are just making voting harder. No wonder we have such a low turnout (among other issues, obviously).

  • Maria del mar
    February 26 2016

    I voted when I was still not fully installed in Paris, France. It took a bit of work but I got it done.

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      It really is worth the effort, Maria. Thank you!

  • Chris
    February 26 2016

    US politics is always fascinating as an observer (also a little scary at times too).

    I recall studying it back in my High School days and learned a hell of a lot!

    We have compulsory voting here in Australia, however voting abroad can only be done for federal elections (for State & Local you need to explain why you didn’t vote)!
    Chris recently posted..Travels around Cusco: The Boleto Turistico

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      I find the system of compulsory voting fascinating. I’d be so curious to see how it would play out — and change the results! — here in the USA.

  • Neil
    February 28 2016

    Thanks for this very helpful and complete information. Timely too. Well done! 2016 is an important US election year. I urge all Americans to vote conscientiously.
    Neil recently posted..How To Get Free Coconut Water (Pipa) in Costa Rica

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      You’re so welcome Neil! It was my pleasure to compile.

  • Sky
    February 29 2016

    YES YES YES YES YES. Thank you for sharing and writing this!!! I hate that so many people ignore the primaries – especially in this election it’s sooooo important! Sharing this on Facebook!
    Sky recently posted..Travel Reads: How to Travel the World on $50 a Day

    • Alex
      March 3 2016

      Thanks for sharing this, Sky! That means so much to me.

  • Natalie
    March 6 2016

    Great post Alex! I’ve only had to vote while overseas once, back in 2008. I’d heard the process was supposed to be super frustrating, but fortunately since I was serving in the Peace Corps the staff worked really hard with the volunteers to make the process easier. Being in a developing country was tough though, as I had no TV, so my sister had to text me the election results!
    Natalie recently posted..Peace Corps vs. AmeriCorps

    • Alex
      March 7 2016

      Oh, that would kill me. I love watching the returns and results! Such drama… I adore it.

  • Mac
    March 7 2016

    Clarie, Well I don’t care who is running and since Hillary appears to be the demorat candidate nominee, I’m voting against Hillary. You want to call it even?

    • Alex
      March 12 2016

      Come on… how can you not care who is running?! I guarantee that person’s decisions will make an impact on your life for years to come. If you’re saying you’ll always vote your party lines, that’s one thing, but saying you don’t care who is running sounds a little silly 🙂

  • Lisa Harvey
    April 8 2016

    Hi Alex!

    Thank you so much for writing this! I work for the Fashion Institute of Technology study abroad program in Florence, Italy and I was wondering if you would be ok with us using this article to help our students vote for the upcoming election.

    Let me know! We would of course give you credit :-)You can email me at the email address I provided!

    Happy Traveling!

    • Alex
      April 26 2016

      Hey Lisa! So sorry for my delay in getting back to you on this! You can absolutely use this article for educational purposes as long as you link back to my original (online) or promote it (in print), hope my reply is not too late. Thanks for sharing it!

  • David
    June 14 2016

    So we will be leaving the country on vacation in mid september and will not return until after election day . . . what are our options? I looked at the FPCA form and there is not option for this scenario.

    • Alex
      June 18 2016

      Hey David! I think it depends on what state you are in — you may be able to take advantage of early voting. I’d send an email to one of the voter assistance groups I linked to here. They are super responsive and helpful!

  • Sirat
    July 27 2016

    I will be in Thailand in October & November so I will miss this November election, but I will go to US embassy in Bangkok to do it.

    Anyway, after watching the Democratic Convention last night, I am done with Democrat. I feel like I was watching ” Black Lives Matter ” convention. No law enforcement persons were invited to speak, only cop killers families were on stage.

    I was thinking to vote for Hillary, but now I will go with Trump. I have no choices. Unfortunately.

    • Alex
      July 27 2016

      Hi Sirat. Yes I did watch the Democratic Convention — did you? Because your statement that “no law enforcement persons were invited to speak” is factually inaccurate. Joe Sweeney, a 9/11 first responder and former detective with the NYPD gave a moving speech about his heroism on that day, as did Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay, who said, “we can respect and support our police officers while at the same time pushing for these important criminal justice reforms,” as did Val Demings, an Orlando congressional candidate who was also their first female police chief. I urge you to look up their speeches.

      All the best.

  • Sirat
    July 27 2016

    Alex, sorry I said that, but I hope you understand if you watched the Democratic Convention last night. It could not be worst. I am a Democrat myself and I always voted for Democrat. This time they cross the line.

    Sirat

    • Alex
      July 27 2016

      Hi Sirat. Again, yes I did watch the convention and I hope you take a look at the speeches I highlighted below, which I found uplifting and inspiring.

  • Jacque McNeely
    September 13 2016

    Thank you for the info. I will be traveling from the end of September to the middle of November with no foreign address to provide on the FPCA and FWAB. I was told by FVAP that one must provide an overseas address in order to use these forms that must be signed and affirmed under penalty of perjury.

    I cannot vote early since early voting in my county does not start until after I leave for overseas. Any suggestions???

    • Alex
      September 14 2016

      Hey Jacque! I believe you can use the address of a hotel you’ll be staying at abroad. Have you read anything that leads you to believe otherwise?

  • Jacque
    September 14 2016

    I will be on a ship and not staying in a hotel while overseas.

    I specifically asked FVAP where in the law (Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act) it was required to have an overseas address and could not get a straight answer nor could I find it in the law. I was told by FVAP that “The law is designed primarily for those voters who are resident overseas, not those who are traveling overseas at the time of the election.” It seems to me to be a gap in the law that needs to be fixed.

  • Jacque
    September 14 2016

    Sorry for another post.

    The forms FPCA and FWAB are what requires a foreign address and not the law itself, in my opinion.

    • Alex
      September 17 2016

      Definitely seems like an issue that needs to be addressed! I absolutely encourage you to write to your voting district and notify them. In the meantime, perhaps democrats abroad can offer some guidance? I’m sure you can find a way to cast a ballot! Good luck!

  • Jennifer
    September 20 2016

    love the page!!!!!

    • Alex
      September 22 2016

      Thanks Jennifer! Feel free to share far and wide!

  • Diane Bazzano
    September 22 2016

    Alex, you certainly aren’t educated about Clinton so please do not try to educate me. Here read and tell me how qualified this woman is. And if you don’t want to live in the US keep out of our politics.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/09/tracking-the-clinton-controversies-from-whitewater-to-benghazi/396182/

    Don’t ever tell people who to vote for. Makes you look ridiculous.

    • Alex
      September 22 2016

      Diane, I never told anyone who to vote for. I wrote an extremely non-partisan post that anyone can use to vote for any candidate from abroad. I won’t bother trying to “educate you” as you say, but I will tell you I am shocked by your statement that those who don’t want to live within the US should keep out of its politics. There are more than eight million Americans living abroad for a wide variety of reasons — some because they are defending the country! — and they all have the right to have their voices heard in this election. To suggest otherwise is, in my opinion, offensive.

  • Ginger
    October 2 2016

    Wow. This is so helpful. Thank you Alex for your time putting it all together!

    If you have a minute I have a few questions. I have gone on holiday and taken my postal vote with me. Reading the accompanying letter it says to send “the completed Oath of Voter” I have sealed the envelop and only put in the page I voted on. I must have left the Oath sheet at home I guess. Can I download this from the internet? Also, I signed under the flap of the envelop – will this be invalid if I reopen it?

    Thanks again,
    Ginger

    • Alex
      October 14 2016

      Hey Ginger! I’m not sure if that’s something you can download online — I recommend contacting your voting district or one of the voting abroad advocacy groups I linked to here to ask. And yes, I’d use a new envelope. Good luck!

  • John
    October 10 2016

    Thanks Alex, Greetings from Copenhagen, Denmark! It’s very refreshing to get some practical information from such an effervescent person. I’m one of ‘those’ who either has been too busy, couldn’t figure it out or simply hasn’t bothered to vote. Maybe it’s simply because the government websites are stale and the American Embassy in Denmark is beyond useless. I guess part of what p*ssed me off is that I’m forced to use my old U.S. residence address – I would think that my SSN and passport information could be sent to a centralized (federal) office and some clerk could check my residence status based upon my IRS filings. ‘They’ know I’m here, but no, I need to use an address which I haven’t been within a minimum of 2000 miles of in 20 years. Argh. Grrrr. 😉

    • Alex
      October 15 2016

      I understand your frustration! There is a LOT about absentee voting that is head-scratching — why can’t I request a ballot online, New York, why?! But I do think it’s worth the struggle, in the end.

  • Wendy
    November 1 2016

    Great post! This is my first time overseas during an election, so I was completely clueless with what to do!

    Thanks again!!

    • Alex
      November 7 2016

      You’re so welcome Wendy — so thrilled I could help!

  • Pam
    November 4 2016

    Hi Alex, How do I email my voted ballot to illinois. I received the postal ballot via email , How do I return it the easy way via email ?Please let me know.

    • Alex
      November 7 2016

      Hi Pam, I apologize that I’m not familiar with the intricacies of absentee voting in each state — I highly, highly recommend contacting your local election board to ask how to file an emergency ballot at this point.

  • Karli
    November 8 2016

    Great post. Didn’t realize I could have options while traveling. Always assumed we had voting by proxy in the U.S.

    • Alex
      November 12 2016

      I wish we did! It would be a much easier system than what we have going on now 🙂

  • Sharon Dale
    November 9 2016
    • Alex
      November 12 2016

      It was a very unexpected outcome.

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