The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) allows citizens (not affiliated with the Uniformed Services) residing outside the United States to vote in the state, or territory, where they last resided immediately prior to departing the United States. The following information will provide assistance for these absentee voters.
Where do I vote?
U.S. citizens do not vote at U.S. embassies and consulates. The electoral process is administered by the different U.S. states, and you vote by mailing an absentee ballot to the state, or territory, where you last resided immediately prior to departing the United States. This applies even if many years have elapsed since your departure from the U.S. and you do not maintain a residence in the state or territory, and the intent to return to that state or territory is uncertain. Also, an address that you may have maintained in the U.S. for other purposes does not qualify as the state in which you should register to vote in (unless you actually resided at that address). You must always register to vote in the state or territory where you last resided.
For members of the Uniformed Services and their family members, most states define the legal voting residence as where a person has, or has had, physical presence at the location and, simultaneously, the intent to remain or return.
State laws differ regarding residence and who can register to vote. Acceptance or denial of voter registration is up to each state. Depending on your state, you may be registered permanently or temporarily, or be allowed to waive registration to apply for an absentee ballot. For more detailed information, please see state-specific information from the Federal Voting Assistance Program website.
How do I vote?
To apply for voter registration and to request an absentee ballot, American citizens abroad send a form called The Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to the state where they last resided immediately prior to departing the U.S. The Federal Post Card Application may be obtained from the Federal Voting Assistance Program website. Please be aware of your state’s registration deadline as the deadlines for the different states may vary extensively!
Some states accept the FPCA in faxed format, or by electronic submission, but they may also require you to send the hard copy by mail. Please consult the state-specific instructions on the Federal Voting Assistance Program website to find out if your state allows these practices.
Your local voting officials should mail your absentee ballot 30 to 45 days before the general election. Return your completed ballot as early as possible. Be aware of your state’s ballot receipt deadline, as well as any postmarking requirements.
I haven’t lived in the U.S. for years – to which state do I send my Federal Postcard Application?
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) allows citizens outside the United States to vote in the state, or territory, where they last resided immediately prior to departing the United States. This applies even if many years have elapsed since their departure from the U.S. and the intent to return to that state or territory is uncertain. Also, an address that a voter may have maintained in the U.S. for other purposes does not qualify as the state in which the voter should register to vote in (unless the voter actually resided at that address.) A voter must always register to vote in the state or territory where he/she last resided.
I’ve never voted before and I never lived in the U.S. – what do I do?
There are certain states in the United States that allow U.S. citizens overseas to vote even if they have never resided in the U.S. If a citizen has never resided in the U.S. but has a parent who is eligible to vote in one these sixteen states, a citizen is eligible to vote at the same voting residence claimed by their parent (certain special provisions may apply; please see the state specific information for more details).
If you are not from one of the states allowing such a practice, do not give up. It may be that you have a bank account, property, or membership in an organization in one of the states that does allow registration and absentee voting by such persons. Perhaps you visited one of the states allowing such registration and earned income there or obtained a driver’s license there, or developed some other tie to that state. You should provide as much pertinent information as possible as an attachment to the Federal Postcard Application (FPCA) when you send it in. The final decision will be up to the local election official.
Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot – FWAB
If you make a timely application for an absentee ballot for a general federal election but do not receive the ballot from your state in time, you may use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). This emergency Write-in Ballot is available on-line. You must register to vote using the FPCA and request an absentee ballot by your state’s deadline – usually 30 days before the election – to be eligible to use the FWAB. Please note that the FWAB is only valid for use in federal, not state or local, office.
- The Embassy also posts notices of upcoming elections, provides notarization (when required) of ballot materials, and performs similar voting-related duties. Be sure to include your email address when registering with the U.S. Embassy online so the Embassy can send you the latest voting information.
- The Federal Voting Assistance Program website contains all information you need for voting in U.S. elections while residing abroad.