Tuesday, August 23, 2016

US Passport holders overseas, please vote. Here's how.

Dear friends holding American passports living overseas,

Thanks to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) most of you can vote in the November 8, 2016 US elections.

Please vote.

I did a bunch of research to make it easy for you. See below and share with friends. Get started soon - August is ideal.

Best wishes from the US,

Most of the below was pulled from a 572-page-long official US government guide and this FAQ handout found on www.fvap.gov.

UOCAVA ensures the right to vote in federal elections by absentee ballot for US citizens who are active members of the armed forces, merchant marine, the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, their eligible family members and other US citizens residing outside of the US. Whether or not a voter can vote in their state and local elections depends on the law of their particular state.

The overseas US citizen registers to vote at the address they last lived at within the US. It does not matter if the person was just renting the property, and does not own anything in that particular state. When completing the overseas voter application, the person must provide their last physical address in the US and not just a PO Box. This physical address will be used to determine which district ballot to send the person, if state law in the state the person last lived in permits them to participate in local elections.

Voting rights are not limited to those who have an old address in the US. Many states allow US citizens who have never lived in the US to vote, using a parent's information. In order to possibly qualify for this the US citizen must have a parent who has lived in one of the following states: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, GA, HI, IA, KS, KY, ME, MA, MI, MN, NE, NV, NH, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, RI, SC, SD, TN, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY.

Whether or not a US citizen who has never lived in the US can vote at all - in even the US federal elections - is governed by state law. If this is you then check the individual state laws for the states in which a parent has lived and/or was registered to vote.

If a US citizen protected by UOCAVA - including those who have never lived in the US - wants to vote from overseas using an absentee ballot then the person cannot simply complete the same kind of absentee ballot they would use if they were going to be on vacation in another US state or at college in the US on Election Day.

Instead, the US citizen who will be overseas on Election Day must complete a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and submit it to their state's elections office. Since US elections are run by the states and not the federal government an overseas US citizen cannot register to vote at the nearest US consulate or embassy, but must communicate with their state's elections office.

The earliest an overseas US citizen can submit their completed FPCA, which ensures the person will receive all federal election ballots from their state elections office for elections taking place in the current calendar year, is each January. The person must complete a new FPCA each January, and again during the year if their overseas address changes.

The latest an overseas US citizen can submit the completed FPCA to their state elections office is governed by their respective state. The earliest deadline I saw was in early September. Check your state's deadline here.

However, the state elections office representatives I spoke with - from Virginia, Hawaii, New York - advised me to have my overseas US citizen friends submit their FPCAs in August to ensure my friends can vote this year. The FPCA website advises even earlier - overseas US citizens should have submitted their FPCAs by August 8, 2016 (90 days before the election.)

So if overseas US Citizens want to vote in the November 8, 2016 elections then they should submit their FPCA today.
It is really easy to complete a FPCA. Just go to www.fvap.gov and look for the text "voters start here." The website's online wizard will help you complete your FPCA. Or you can get started using this widget:

One note - I was told that when asked if the applicant intends to return to the US, the applicant should check off the option indicating their return to the US is uncertain. This will qualify the applicant to receive their ballot overseas.

Now, how to return the completed FPCA to the state's elections office? The method of delivery - fax, email, and/or postal service - is governed by the respective state's law. Unfortunately in Alabama for example, the completed FPCA must be submitted by postal service. Check your state's law to see the methods available to you.

If the completed FPCA must be submitted by postal service, then the US citizen can send it to their state's elections office by dropping it off at the nearest US consulate or embassy. I believe it does not need to be dropped off by the applicant themselves but I could have that wrong.

Contact the consulate or embassy first to find out their procedure and when the consulate or embassy's next outgoing diplomatic pouch will reach the US. I read in the case of Abu Dhabi that it can take six weeks for the diplomatic pouch to reach the US. Find US consulate and embassy contact information here.

I believe each consulate and embassy should have a trained Voting Assistance Officer who can help you with the whole overseas absentee voting process. If not then a list of toll free help numbers are here.

If sending the FPCA through the diplomatic pouch, I believe a completed FPCA must still have proper US postage on it. The wizard should help the US citizen prepare a postage paid (free) envelope to then print out and then use to hold the completed FPCA when dropping it off at the consulate or embassy for shipment in the diplomatic pouch.

It is also possible to send the completed FPCA from overseas to the state elections office via FedEx, DHL, or UPS but the US citizen must pay for it themselves.

Once the state elections office receives the US citizen's FPCA then the state will use the information submitted by the US citizen to determine the person's eligibility to vote.

h Not all states will contact the US citizen to let them know the FPCA has been received and processed. To confirm a FPCA has been received and processed, the US citizen should contact their state elections office - look that contact information up here.

Once a US citizen's FPCA has been received, processed, and approved by their state's elections office the US citizen can expect to receive a ballot to vote in the November elections. Their vote will be count just the same as they were voting from within the US on Election Day.

When completing the FPCA the US citizen is given the choice on Line 6 of the FPCA to receive their ballot by email/online download, fax, or snail mail. Each state must provide an option for fax, email/online download. Ballots cannot be sent to the nearest US consulate or embassy for pick up by the US citizen.

This may be incorrect, but I believe if the US citizen wants to be able to return their completed ballot by electronic means (if permissible by their state law) then the US citizen must set that up now by checking off the electronic and fax options on the FPCA as the means by wish they prefer to receive their ballot. (I know Line 6 on the FPCA doesn't mention this, but this is something I learned while doing research.)

It is important to submit FPCAs to the state elections offices in August so that US citizen overseas voters can receive their ballots as soon as they become available. The November 8, 2016 elections ballots will first become available to voters - and will be sent out to overseas US citizen voters - on September 28, 2016. So if a US citizen overseas is already registered to vote via absentee ballot on September 28, then they will receive their ballot in time to vote in the November elections.

If a FPCA is processed by a star elections office after September 28, 2016 then the state elections office will send out the voter's ballot as soon as possible. However it is reasonable to expect a delay.

The absentee ballot will reach the US citizen in the manner the US citizen specified on Line 6 of their FPCA application. In some states the US citizen will be able to vote in state and local elections, and in other states the US citizen's absentee ballot will only permit them to vote in federal elections.

Although each state sets its own deadlines for FPCA ("registration") and absentee ballot receipt, it is highly recommended that US citizens return their completed absentee ballots to their state elections offices right after they receive their absentee ballots in the mail.

The completed absentee ballot must be returned to the state elections office in the manner specified by that state's law. If a US citizen is voting in Alabama for example, the FPCA and the completed ballot both must be reined to the Alabama state elections office by postal mail. While the US citizen has the option of sending their completed absentee ballot by diplomatic pouch from the nearest US consulate or embassy, it can still take more than a month to reach the Alabama state elections office.

Many states permit US citizens overseas to submit their completed absentee ballots by fax, email, or digital upload. If a US citizen submits their ballot electronically before the deadline then the state elections office will securely store the voter's completed ballot until all votes are counted on November 8, 2016.

If a US citizen who submitted the FPCA does not receive their absentee ballot from their state elections office by October 8, 2016 then it is advised that the US citizen complete a FedEral Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). If the US citizen submits their FWAB and then receives their absentee ballot. Then the US citizen should quickly complete and return their absentee ballot. If their state elections office receives their FWAB and absentee ballot by the Election Day deadline then only the absentee ballot will be counted.

US citizens overseas should confirm their absentee ballot has been received by their state elections office. US citizens can check the status of  their ballot here.

Once a US citizen overseas has confirmed their ballot has been received by their state elections office before their state's Elections Day deadline then that's it - the overseas citizen's vote will be counted just the same as if they had voted in person or by mail from inside of the US.

Thank you for voting absentee from overseas.

If you have friends in the US who need help registering to vote or need to request an absentee ballot to vote by mail from within the US then send your friends to www.headcount.org.

Thank you to FVAP, the Virginia, Hawaii and New York elections offices who helped me with my research, and to FVAP and the Overseas Vote Foundation for the graphics used above.

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