How to Vote from Abroad
US citizens resident abroad are eligible to vote in all Presidential and Congressional elections. (If you were born abroad to a US citizen parent, and never lived in the US, you may be entitled to vote in the state in which your American parent last lived. Check with the election authorities in that state to determine your status.) It does not matter how long you have been living abroad, whether you ever intend to return to the US, whether you have voted before, or whether you maintain a residence in the US. However, in order to vote you have to be registered. Many states require you to be registered at least a month before election day.
Registering to Vote: The current procedure (and how we got here)
To register to vote, voters can download the Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) from www.fvap.gov. Alternatively, you can create a personal voter profile on www.overseasvote.org to facilitate future voting. If a voter sends her FPCA in too late, the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot can be requested as an emergency measure (the FWAB is also available on the FVAP website.) In some states, the FWAB can also be used as a voter registration form and ballot.
The story of how we evolved to this point is a case study of advocacy in action. The suitability of the current Absentee Ballot Request Form owes much to the willingness of ACA and sister organizations fighting for a just result in this critical area – and winning.
In 2011, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) issued a revised Federal Post Card Application form (Rev.08-2011), using some wording which had not been cleared with stakeholder groups. In this revised form, US citizens voting from abroad were asked whether they "intend to return" to the US or "do not intend to return" to the US.
Not only was this a difficult – and an often emotional – choice to make; it was not relevant for determining eligibility for voting in federal elections. Under the Uniformed and Overseas Americans Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), Americans living abroad can vote in federal elections via their state of last residence with no time or "intent" limitations.
The question of intent to return can be relevant on the state level, to determine whether you can vote in state and local elections while living abroad. For some states, voting in state elections can also be a factor in determining liability for state taxes.
Overseas American groups, including ACA, protested the revised formulation, and encouraged the use of a previous form which did not contain this objectionable language.
OVF launched its CLOVE initiative (Clear Language for Overseas Voter Enfranchisement). OVF has also written directly to Bob Carey, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
Congresswoman and Americans Abroad Caucus member Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) also wrote a strongly worded letter to Bob Carey as well as to the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta.
Brian Knowlton in The International Herald Tribune also dealt with this subject: "Change to Ballot Request Form Angers U.S. Expats."
Following a series of consultations with stakeholders, the FVAP ultimately settled on a somewhat different formulation to enable overseas Americans to indicate their overseas resident status without having to decide and declare their future residence plans.
The US Vote Foundation has prepared an informative video to assist Americans residing abroad with the registration and voting process.
Never lived in the US? In some cases you can still register to vote.
Many states extend voting rights to the children of their former residents who were born abroad and have never resided in the US. For the latest information concerning each State's position on the subject, please refer to the FVAP website.
New Voter ID Requirements
In recent years new legislation has passed requiring more stringent voter ID requirement by some states. read more here.
Some states will require photo identification to be mailed along with absentee ballots.To ensure that no surprises spoil the process of registering and ballot casting, overseas voters should consult the website of the Secretary of State for the state in which they plan to vote. Questions not answered on the website can normally be addressed to voting officials in the borough or parish in which they plan to register. A state by state overview can be found here.
This ACA webpage was updated in April 2017