overseas voters

An Expat Guide to Voting in the U.S. Elections While Abroad

The next United States presidential election will be held on November the 6th2012. The majority of Americans who reside abroad are allowed to vote in the federal elections through an absentee vote. However, this does vary according to the laws and regulations of their state of residence.

Unfortunately, in the last presidential election of 2008, only 1.2 million ballots were sent overseas and one quarter to one third of these ballots were not returned. As such, an estimated 5.7 million U.S. citizens abroad failed to exercise their right to vote. While there are a number of administrative and regulatory challenges that may confuse American expats and deter them from engaging in the absentee voting process, it is important that you do exercise your right to vote. Our guide to voting in the U.S. elections from overseas provides all the information you need to do so.


Who is entitled to vote?

Expatriates who are U.S. citizens and are over the age of 18 are eligible to vote absentee in both the primary and general elections. Each state does exercise different voting requirements and processes. Visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s Voting Assistance Guide or the Overseas Vote Foundation website for further information. For voting purposes, your state of legal residence is the state where you lived before you relocated overseas, even if you no longer have a postal address in that state. If you have never lived in the U.S. some states still allow you to vote providing you have a parent who would be eligible. For further information, contact your local election officials.


How to register for an absentee vote:

It is crucial that American expatriates living overseas complete the state voter registration requirements at the earliest opportunity. To do so, you must visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website or the Overseas Vote Foundation website, select your state of domicile and you then be guided through the process of registering to vote and requesting a ballot form. For the first time this year, U.S. citizens can receive their blank ballots electronically and, depending on the county in which you are currently living, you can get and return your ballot by email, fax, or Internet download. Consult the online FVAP Voting Assistance Guide for your state’s current instructions. If you do request that your ballot paper is delivered electronically you will receive the form at least 45 days before the election. The majority of states are now able to offer absentee voters the ability to track the progress of their voted ballot online.


Returning the ballot form:

Again, the acceptable process for returning the ballot form may vary from state to state, but in general expatriates have a number of options available to them:

  1. Return the form by mail or courier: If you select this option, make sure that you allow sufficient time before the November 6th deadline. If you are running out of time or do not have a reliable mail service in your host country, you can use a professional courier service to return the ballot paper.
  2. U.S. Embassy Pouch/APO/FPO: You can drop off your ballot request or voted ballot at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for return to the United States. It should be addressed to your local election officials and have sufficient postage or be in a postage-paid envelope. A postage-paid envelope is available on the FVAP web site.
  3. Fax, Email, or Internet: Some states do permit the return of the form via electronic means. To check whether your state of domicile is one such state, check the information available on the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s Voting Assistance Guide.

Important dates:

  • General Election: 11/06/2012
  • Register by: Not Required
  • Request ballot by: 11/06/2012
  • Return ballot by: 11/06/2012

What happens if you request a ballot form by post and it does not arrive in time?

In the event that your ballot form does not arrive in time, you may be eligible to apply to use a 
federal write-in ballot. You should consult the closest U.S. embassy or consulate for additional information. Alternatively, you can use the online wizard. Write in the candidates of your choice, and send it to your local election officials.

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