Voting Abroad as a U.S. Citizen
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed March 18, 2020
If you're a U.S. citizen who's currently living outside of the United States, you can still vote in U.S. elections. In every election cycle, thousands of U.S. citizens who are traveling or temporarily living abroad get the chance to vote. Military personnel and any adult family members of legal voting age can vote this way as well.
How to Vote When Abroad
Not surprisingly, voting while abroad calls for a little extra effort — but not much. There are two steps:
1. Register for an Absentee Ballot
First, you register by sending a completed Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to your local election office, which will confirm your eligibility and arrange to have you sent absentee ballots for any elections that are to be held that year. (You have to submit a new FPCA each year you want to vote from abroad.)
The FPCA will ask for some basic information, including your state ID number or the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you have neither a state ID nor a Social Security number, you can provide any identifying information that could help your local election office verify your eligibility to vote. An FPCA is available from the website of the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
2. Complete Your Absentee Ballot
Once your local election officials receive and process your FPCA, they will also send you a blank absentee ballot by mail or electronically. Complete your ballot and return it before your state's deadline.
Most states require a lead time of about a month to receive and process your absentee ballot. For instance, in the case of the 2020 presidential election (which takes place Nov. 3, Texas residents who are voting from abroad have to have their ballot returned by Oct. 5.
If you didn't get your ballot 30 days before the election you want to vote in, you can vote using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. A nearby U.S. embassy or consulate should be able to help you get a ballot, or you can request one via the FVAP website.
Once you have it, you can fill in the candidate you're voting for, then print and sign the form and send it to your local election office. When you send off your ballot, be sure to write a “security envelope" on the envelope containing the ballot in order to ensure your vote stays private.
Voting Abroad Rules Vary By State
Which elections can you vote in? That also depends on your home state. Just about every state allows absentee voting in federal primary and general elections. Other states allow overseas citizens to vote for state and local candidates and referendums.
You can find out more about your state's regulations regarding voting when abroad at the website of the Overseas Vote Foundation. You can also speak to an attorney with experience in election law to see if you can vote while abroad or to understand more about the process.
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