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. See below for more details.)
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. To register to vote you need to use the last residential address where you lived in the United States. This is NOT where you will receive your absentee ballot however this is the address you need to register as a US voter because it determines your voting district. 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. If a voter sends a 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.
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.
If you have never lived in the US, you can probably still register to vote.
Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia extend voting rights to the children of their former residents who have never resided in the US. Unfortunately, thirteen US states do not extend voting rights to citizens who have never lived in the US. For the latest information concerning each state's position on the subject, please refer to the FVAP website (www.fvap.gov). ACA encourages US citizens living abroad to register and vote in the state where they last resided, or in the state in which their parents last resided if permitted by the law of that state.
New Voter ID Requirements
In recent years new legislation was 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.
Did you participate in ACA’s 5-Day Voting Challenge? If not you can link to it here and watch videos and read articles on Voting from overseas.
Did you know that the first law assuring Americans living abroad the right to vote was passed 45 years ago? Click here if you missed our 5-day celebration.
This ACA webpage was updated in September 2020