When new governments are elected, the international community often keeps a close watch. On 6 November 2012, the world will look to the United States of America, waiting for the results of the US Presidential Election. The outcome will not only decide the course of national politics for the next 4 years, but it can also have a major impact on international relations. If you’re an American living abroad, this short post by US expat Ben may be for you.
I was talking to a friend of mine recently and we ended up having one of those political discussions. She asked me who I supported in the upcoming presidential election, and although I did express a preference, she quickly picked up on the fact that I hadn’t even voted yet. “It’s one thing if you don’t care”, she said, “but to actually have a view on this and still not vote seems a bit strange, doesn’t it?” She went on to tell me that for the past 12 years while she was living abroad a lot, she used to try to schedule her visits home to coincide with general election time in her country so she could cast her vote. One year she couldn’t make it, so she used the postal vote option that her country offered.
Postal vote – for some reason, it had never crossed my mind, even though I had never missed an election back home in the States. So I decided to look into it, and I’m sure you know what comes next: it’s not actually that complicated! Apparently the process has been simplified since the last election – technically, all you need is a post box, although admittedly internet access and a printer do help.
After spending a couple of hours reading and thinking about absentee voting, I figured that there were probably quite a few US expats like me out there. So I decided to write up the information I gathered and share it here: nobody can say they didn’t know!
Register and Request Your Absentee Ballot
In order to be able to vote from abroad, you have to register to vote with local election officials in your state of (voting) residence. This is done by sending in a completed Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to your local election officials.
FPCAs are available from any US embassy or consulate, or you can download the form from the Federal Voting Assistance Program or the Overseas Vote Foundation website. They also offer an online assistant to guide you through the whole process. Most states allow you to send in your FPCA via mail, fax or email.
45 days before the general elections in November, your state will either send your blank ballot to you electronically, or mail it to the address you provided on your FPCA.
Vote and Return Your Ballot
Once you have received your ballot, vote! 😉 Then return your completed ballot to your local election officials either by mail or electronically. If you send it by mail, please check the international postage guidelines from your country of residence first. Alternatively, you can hand in your ballot at the nearest US embassy or consulate, but make sure it is in a sealed and correctly addressed envelope. Postage-paid envelopes are available on the FVAP web site. If you would like to return your voted ballot by fax, email or the internet, please consult the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s Voting Assistance Guide for electronic transmission options for your state.
Dates and Deadlines
When applying for your Absentee Ballot, it is generally recommended to do so no later than 45 days prior to the elections. You should receive your ballot at least 30 days before the elections in order to be able to return it in time. For 2012 election dates and deadlines, check the relevant section on the website of the Overseas Vote Foundation.
If you didn’t apply in time, or if your ballot doesn’t reach you, you can still vote using the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). It is usually available together with your FPCA: either at your nearest US embassy or consulate or downloadable from the internet. You need to fill in an FPCA in order to be able to use the FWAB, but you can send them in both at the same time. If you receive your ballot after you have sent in the FWAB, don’t worry: Just fill it in and send it to your local election officials as well – this will not void your vote.
That’s it, you’re done!
All pictures from Wikimedia Commons.