Absentee Ballots for Overseas Voting in US Elections

Voting in a US election from overseas is as simple as posting a letter.
Graeme Robertson/Getty Images

With an absentee ballot, you can vote in a US Election from anywhere in the world that has a postal service. If you are otherwise qualified to vote in a US federal or state election or primary but are overseas you can still vote with an absentee ballot as long as you apply for it and send it in on time.

Who Can Vote With an Absentee Ballot

You can vote if you are:

  • a US citizen living abroad temporarily - for work or education, for example
  • a US citizen traveling abroad at election time - on vacation, or touring with a show, perhaps
  • a member of the US armed services stationed abroad
  • a US citizen living abroad permanently
  • a first time voter

You can even vote by Absentee Ballot If:

  • You have never lived in the USA. If your parents are US citizens who registered your birth with the appropriate authorities and you are entitled to carry US Passport, sixteen states will allow you to vote at your parents last voting address even if you never lived in the USA.
  • You are a serving prisoner in Vermont or Maine Only these states allow serving prisoners unrestricted access to the US election system. But states vary widely and, if you are currently a prisoner, you may be able to vote in some elections.
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How to Apply from Overseas

Federal Postcard application for absentee ballot
Public Domain

To vote by absentee ballot, you must apply for one from:

  • The voting authorities where you were last registered to vote
  • The voting authorities where your parents were registered to vote - if you have never lived in the USA or if you are registering as a first time voter.

How to Apply

To apply, you must use a Registration and Absentee Ballot Request - Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). You can print out an application from one of the online resources listed on the next page. In most cases, if you are unable to download a pdf file to print, the application can be emailed to you.

You must mail the FPCA to the appropriate voting authorities - (don't worry, the online resources can help you figure that out) - who will, in due course, send you your absentee Ballot. If you are unsure of your overseas address when you apply, you can have your ballot mailed to a known US or overseas address for forwarding on to you.

The instructions for filling out and posting the absentee ballot come with it. You must follow these exactly when you fill out your ballot and send it or it will not be counted.

Next: Where to Find a Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Application

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Where to Find An Application

Some Online Sources of Absentee Ballot Information
Ferne Arfin

There are a number of online resources for finding absentee ballot applications that can be downloaded, printed from the Internet or emailed to you. Even if you receive your application by email, you will still have to fill it out, sign it and mail it - using ordinary snail mail - to the appropriate authorities.

Sources from Political Parties

In an attempt to be totally bipartisan, I looked for the online absentee ballot information provided by both the Republicans Abroad and the Democrats Abroad.

  • Democrats Abroad Absentee Voter Information. The Democrats Abroad website has a link to Vote From Abroad.org which is, by far, the easiest web tool for obtaining an FPCA. The site guides you through an online questionnaire, over six short screens. Notes alongside provide guidance and link to other information (where, for example, to find a Zip Code). At the completion of the process, the system generates a form complete with your local election authority (including postal address and phone numbers) already filled in.The site is non-partisan and, when you have downloaded the application, or had it emailed to you, all your personal information is deleted.
  • Republicans Overseas Facebook Page. The least helpful of all the sites visited online, including non-partisan foundations and political party sites, was the Republicans overseas organizations. As of March 2016, at the height of the US primary season, they did not have a website and their facebook page had no information. Perhaps they will publish more nearer the time of the elections in November. The organization named Republicans Abroad has ceased to provide practical information and is simply a small website with articles about economic policy.

Other Sources of FPCAs

Next: When to Apply for an Absentee Ballot

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When to Apply

Federal Write In Absentee Ballot
Public Domain

Most advice - both from political parties and bipartisan organizations, suggests that you apply no later than 45 days before the election in which you wish to participate. Your ballot should arrive at least a month before the election.

If it does not arrive in time, or if you forget to apply early enough, you can still vote with a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). This is a backup, in case your ballot does not arrive in time. When you downloaded your Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), the FWAB was probably included in the same file. If not, return to the source of your original absentee ballot application (Find FPCA sources here) and download or print out an FWAB to have on hand if you need it.

If your absentee ballot ballot fails to arrive, fill out the FWAB, which is a write-in ballot for the Federal Election only, and send it to the same voting authorities to whom you sent your original application. If your absentee ballot subsequently arrives, fill that out and send it in too. Your local voting authorities will know to count only one.

If you forgot to post your FPCA don't worry. You can still vote in the US Presidential election. Download and print out an FPCA and an FWAB from one of the sources on the previous page and send them both in to your voting authorities together. You must file an FPCA to use an FWAB but you can send them both in at the same time. Remember, though, the FWAB is only a write in ballot for Federal elections, not state or local elections.

Next: Find out if you are eligible to vote by absentee ballot in a US Election

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