How to Vote from Abroad

VOTELiving in such a global city as London, there are days when I feel acutely American (accidentally calling the ‘queue’ the ‘line’), and other days where I feel a bit lost and disconnected from the things that make me American/Californian (In-N-Out, sunshine, and people who smile back…more often). But, to quote David Beirne, the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) “there is nothing more American than being able to participate in the political process.”

For someone looking to share their voice, to remain accountable and connected to their community back in the States, voting from abroad is one of the most significant ways to do so. 

Every American election matters, so if you are interested in casting your vote and exercising your rights while abroad, the steps outlined below are meant to help simplify the process for you.

 


First, am I eligible?

As an American abroad, you will be completing what is known as the “Absentee Voting Process” because you will be ‘absent’ (duh!) from your voting residence back home in the U.S. on Election Day. Therefore, to be eligible for the absentee voting process you must be 1) a U.S. citizen 2) at least 18 years old on election day, and 3) be absent from your voting residence.

If you fit these criteria, then it is worth your time to continue reading and learn how to go about the Absentee Voting Process.

The Absentee Voting Process: How can I vote absentee (from overseas)?

There are 2 ways.

You can vote by filling out and returning an A) Absentee Ballot OR B) a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) to your local election office back home, by your U.S. State’s federal election deadline. There are some restrictions on the FWAB, which is why it is generally seen as the ‘backup plan.’

To proceed with Plan A to have your Absentee Ballot sent to you abroad, you need to fill out a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) as soon as you have a mailing address for your stay in your study abroad destination. You should aim to do this at least 90 days before the next election to ensure that your FPCA is processed and your absentee ballot is sent on time (at least 45 days before Election Day).

SKIP TO ‘The Backup Plan (Plan B)’ section of this article if you are within 45 days of the next election; you will likely not have enough time to process your FPCA and receive your specified absentee ballot.

Voting by FPCA (Plan A)

vote caDepending on your State of voting residence, the rules on how to fill out the FPCA and the ways you can receive your absentee ballot will vary. Assuming that most of you reading this are U.S. citizens residing in California, the following instructions are specific to California’s FPCA and Absentee Voting Process.

For all others with voting residency outside California, you can check out Chapter 2 of the FVAP’s Voting Assistance Guide on the FVAP website here for instructions on how to fill out your FPCA.

1) Register to Vote & Request your absentee ballot using the FPCA

  • Where do I complete the FPCA?
    • Go to FVAP.gov’s voting assistance page for California voters here.
    • Under the box labeled “Register to Vote, Request a Ballot, or Update My Voter Info”, choose how you want fill out your FPCA (online, or print and mail/email/fax). I highly recommend you choose ‘Use California’s Online Tools’ to do the entire process online! This singular tool is used to register all California voters, whether they are living in California or abroad.
      • IMPORTANT: if you have not previously registered to vote (i.e. this is the first election you will be voting in) then the online registration process is NOT available to you; you can ONLY mail or fax the FPCA.
  • What information will I need to provide?

    ONLINE FPCA.

    If you opt to do the process online, follow the instructions on the page. The screen will look like this:
    CA vote page
    You will need to provide your *a) California driver license OR California identification card number, b) the last four digits of your social security number, c) your date of birth, d) your California residence address, and e) a mailing address outside of the U.S.*If you don’t have a California I.D. or driver license number, you can still complete the form by completing an online interview.HARDCOPY FPCA.
    If you opt to either print the FPCA and fill it out by hand, or use the FVAP’s Online Assistant tool to fill it out online and print it, please follow the instructions here on how to fill it out and mail it to your local election office.In addition to a) your mailing address outside of the U.S., b) your California residence address, and c) your date of birth, please note that you must provide *d) either a State issued ID number or the last four digits of your Social Security Number. *If you do not have either of these numbers you must enter in Section 6: “I do not have a Social Security Number or State issued ID number.”
  • When do I register?
    Timing is key when registering to vote as an absentee. The recommended date to submit your FPCA is 90 days before the 2018 election. If you’re reading this and it is past the 90 day mark, don’t freak out! Fill out your FPCA as soon as possible. If you don’t receive your ballot in time for you to fill it out and mail back to the states, there is a ‘backup’ way to vote (see ‘The Backup Plan’ section below!).

2) Receive your absentee ballot & Fill it out

Once your FPCA is processed, the appropriate absentee ballot will be sent to you in one of the manners you specified on the FPCA (email, mail or fax). You should receive your absentee ballot no less than 45 days before the election. If its past 45 days, and you’re worried you won’t get your ballot in time, skip to ‘The Backup Plan’ section!

3) Mail your ballot back home!voting overseas

  • Where do I send my ballot?
    You need to MAIL your ballot to your local election office back home in California! To find the exact address of your election office, consult the list of California election offices by counties here (“Local elections offices for county” section).You have to pay the postage yourself, unfortunately, unless…ALTERNATIVELY you can drop off your ballot at your nearest embassy abroad! Find and contact your local embassy or consulate here, to find out if/how/when you can drop it off. Please note that you still have to address the ballot to your local election office in California; the embassy will take care of the postage for you.
  • By when should I send my ballot to Cali?
    It is recommended that you mail your ballot to your local election office back home in California at least 3 weeks prior to the election date (see here), to ensure that your ballot is delivered and received on time. Ballots must be postmarked (stamped/sent) by the election deadline and received no later than three days after the election to be counted.

Voting via The Backup Plan (Plan B)

If you do not receive your absentee ballot from your State in time to return it to your election official to participate in the election (or you’re a little late in the game in terms of registering for your FPCA), use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot—the FWAB—to vote!

As you will see below, this option limits the offices that you can vote for and/or requires that you do more work to collect the information you need to vote on the ballot. This is why it’s a ‘backup plan.’

Filling out the FWAB Online

You can use the FVAP’s Online Assistant to fill out your FWAB forms online, print, and then individually mail to your local election office. As this tool is meant for voters from all 55 states and territories, the selection of candidates on this write-in ballot is limited to candidates for federal office.

  1. Use the “FVAP Online Assistant” to fill out and print your Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. NOTE: you will need access to a printer, as you will not be able to save the PDF at the end (lots of sensitive info).
    • Fill in the fields, choose your candidates, and print.
    • Questions?
      If you have questions regarding certain fields of the online FWAB, check out the FWAB section of the FVAP Guide for California voters here. You can also always email FVAP at vote@fvap.gov
  2. After you’ve printed your FWAB forms, mail the forms to your local election office back home in California.
    • Where do I send it to?
      To find the exact address of your election office, consult the list of California election offices by counties here (“Local elections offices for county” section).
    • When should I mail it?
      It is recommended that you send the forms 3 weeks before the election deadline, to ensure that your FWAB is delivered/received on time and counted. Ballots must be postmarked (stamped/sent) by the election deadline and received no later than three days after the election to be counted.

Filling out the FWAB by Hand

You can also print the FWAB yourself, fill in the fields & choose your candidates by hand, and then send the forms to your local election office. This way, you can write-in your candidates for both federal and local elections; however, you will need to reach out to your local election office for the information. You can find a list of California’s federal candidates here; find your local election office here and contact them to get more specific information on candidates.

  1. Visit the FVAP Voting Asisstance Guide website here.
  2. Click on ‘Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot-FWAB’ under the red “Election Materials” box on the top right hand of the screen.
  3. Carefully read the instructions, print and fill out both the Voter Information and Official Backup Ballot documents.
    • As the backup ballot is write-in, you will need to consult the list of your states candidates on the election ballot:
      • You can find a list of California’s federal candidates here
      • Find & Contact your local election office here, and ask more information on candidates.
  4. Once you’ve complete your Voter Information and Official Backup Ballot, mail the forms to your local election office back home in California.
    • To find the exact address of your election office, consult the list of California election offices by counties here (“Local elections offices for county” section).
      • Don’t want to pay the postage?
        You can drop off your ballot at your nearest embassy abroad! Find and contact your local embassy or consulate here, to find out if/how/when you can drop it off. Please note that you still have to address the ballot to your local election office in California; the embassy will take care of the postage for you.
    • It is recommended that you send the forms 3 weeks before the election deadline, to ensure that your FWAB is delivered/received on time and counted. Ballots must be postmarked (stamped/sent) by the election deadline and received no later three days after the election to be counted.

Other Resources

For direct and detailed guidance, check out the FVAP’s Voting Assistance Guide for the State of California here.

Consult the general FVAP Voting Assistance Guide website here for guidance on all other states’ and territories’ processes. You can also read through the PDF version of the complete guide (all 50 states) for 2018 here.

To direct your more ‘nuanced’/’specific’ questions, reach out to the FVAP at vote@fvap.gov.

FAQs

When is my State’s next election?

  • You can visit the U.S. Vote Foundation’s website to check the date/deadline of your State’s next election here.

How/where did you collect this information?

  • SOURCE A: I assisted and participated in a Voter Assistance Officer Workshop at the U.S. Embassy in London, where I received clarification on the information and the materials needed to complete the Absentee Voting Process. You can find my Certificate of Training FVAP Certificate of Training here)
  • SOURCE B,C, D etc. : The workshop provided, as they described, 90% of the information needed to complete the process. The other 10% was collected through research on the fvap.gov website, communication with FVAP representatives, as well as California State’s Vote California website.

How can I check the status of my California ballot?

Why do I have to register 90 days before the election to vote from abroad, when the deadline to register to vote in California is 15 days before the election?

  • Although the deadline to register to vote in California is 15 days before any election, completing your FPCA so close to the election does not guarantee that you will receive your absentee ballot in time. It takes time to process your FPCA, mail your ballot to you overseas, and then for you to return your ballot back to the States. This is why the recommended date to submit your FPCA is 90 days before the election (8 August).

 

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