Americans in the United States aren’t the only ones worried about how they’ll vote this year.
According to the federal election assistance program, there is 2.9 million Americans Eligible to vote from abroad. But their turnout is consistently low – about 7 percent, compared to in the last presidential election in 2016 60.2 percent domestically. And because of the pandemic, overseas voters face even more obstacles than usual, including global email interruptions, Embassy closures and personal dislocations.
The effort is still worth it.
“Americans overseas are affected by US law and often have no voice because even though we are numerous, we are scattered,” said Kym Kettler-Paddock, communications director for Republicans Overseas. “But the more we vote, the more people pay attention to our issues, regardless of the party.”
Postal voting has won tight races in the past, and this year will be no different, said Julia Bryan, global chairwoman of Democrats Abroad.
“People’s votes count, and we vote at key points,” she said. “There are many swing states that we send our voices back to.”
It might take a little more planning this year, but Americans overseas can still ensure they cast their votes in November. That’s how it’s done.
Request your voting slip as early as possible – for example today.
If you are an overseas voter, it is good practice to complete a federal postcard application at the beginning of each calendar year to ensure you are on the lists for all area codes, general, and special elections in your state. (Overseas Americans usually vote in the state they last lived in, even if they are no longer connected to that location.) But if you haven’t already, then it’s not too late.
The FPCA serves both as an election application and as a voter registration. There are two websites with tools to help you complete and submit fvap.gov, the official website of the US government, and VotefromAbroad.org, a non-partisan website created by overseas Democrats. (One benefit of VotefromAbroad.org is that you can electronically capture your signature and email the form directly without having to print it out first, though voters in some states, including California and New York, certainly do handwritten.) Both sides also have People available to answer your questions.
The deadlines for applying for your voting slip vary depending on the federal state, but are already on October 3rd. So don’t postpone this.
Do as much as you can online.
At a time when both international and US postal services were combined into one State of disorder, it is best to avoid them altogether. Submitting your election request online is a good start and is allowed in almost every state.
When completing your ballot request, be sure to select email as the delivery option so that you receive your ballot as soon as possible. If you have already submitted your application but have not asked to receive your voting slip by email, you can submit a new one. Every state is required by federal law to electronically provide ballot papers to foreign voters upon request.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can email your voting slip back. More than 20 states require most overseas voters to return their ballots in the mail, including Texas and New York. Voters from these states are most likely to run into problems.
“We really want to make sure these voters can bend forward and anticipate how they will behave to turnout,” said David Beirne, director of the federal electoral assistance program.
It is important that voters from post-only countries submit their completed ballot papers well in advance of election day on November 3rd Diplomatic Bag. But not every embassy offers this service, delivery can take six weeks or more and your ballot would still have to go through the US postal system to your local polling station. You can also use an express delivery service like FedEx or DHL, but the longer you wait, the more it will cost you.
However you choose, if you need to return your voting slip, do so as soon as you receive it. According to federal law, electoral offices are required to send requested ballot papers to foreign voters at least 45 days before the election, in this case on September 19th. Don’t you want to wait that long? You can now send a replacement ballot (more on this below).
Some states, including California and Florida, accept completed voting forms by fax but not by email. If you do not have access to a fax machine, the federal election assistance can offer you one free email-to-fax service.
Each state has its own set of rules. To make sure you know the exact deadlines and requirements, check yours here. (Some state election websites can block overseas users and require a VPN to access.)
Stay in touch with your local returning officer.
If you don’t hear from your electoral officer for the state you will be voting in after submitting your application to vote, contact that person’s office directly to make sure it was received. The same goes for returning your voting slip (you may also be able to track your status online). And if you have any questions about your individual situation – for example, if you are back in the US because of the pandemic and can no longer return to your place of residence abroad – your local election officer is the best person to talk to. (And remember that this year the polls are facing overwhelming challenges.)
You will find contact details for your State or local election office here.
Have a backup plan.
If you don’t get your ballot by September 19, contact your local election officer (also check your spam folder). In the meantime, you can Federal postal ballot paperwhich is specially designed as a backup for foreign voters and send it by post, fax or email following the same rules as your official ballot papers. For information on the candidates and election activities in your area, please contact Ballot.
If you want to be absolutely sure that your vote will be counted, send the replacement ballot now. Then when your official ballot arrives, send it in as well. If both arrive before the deadline – which is polling day in most states – the polling station will only count the official ballots so you don’t have to worry about your vote being double-counted or disqualified. And you can sit back and relax, because not even a pandemic has prevented you from having your say.