For the millions of voting-age Americans living outside the United States, it can seem like too much of a hassle to vote in elections back home. So most don’t.
But voting from abroad is actually quite easy, and it’s worth the effort, Democratic and Republican officials say.
“I think it’s a huge privilege that we can vote in these elections that the whole world is watching,” said Julia Bryan, international chairwoman of Democrats Abroad.
Election results are not final until every absentee vote has been counted, and those votes can be decisive. Candidates whose victories came down to absentee ballots include Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire in 2016, Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina in 2016, former Senator Jim Webb of Virginia in 2006, President George W. Bush in 2000 and, last month, Troy Balderson, a Republican who won a special House election in Ohio.
By voting, Americans abroad also encourage members of Congress to pay attention to issues that affect their lives, like double taxation, said Kym Kettler-Paddock, communications director for Republicans Overseas.
“When Americans overseas do not vote, our issues do not get taken up by legislators,” she said.
Here’s how to make your voice heard.
Can I vote in the November midterms?
Yes. Most United States citizens 18 or older who live overseas are allowed to vote for federal offices like president, senator and representative, including in the midterm elections on Nov. 6. Some states also allow overseas citizens to vote on state and local races and initiatives. And no matter how long it’s been since you last voted, you can still do it.
How do I register?
To ensure that you stay on your state’s voting rolls, it’s a good idea to register and request your absentee ballot at the beginning of each calendar year and any time you change address. The registration form is called the Federal Post Card Application. The easiest way to fill it out is through websites like the government-run Federal Voting Assistance Program, the nonpartisan Overseas Vote Foundation or VoteFromAbroad.org, a nonpartisan site run by Democrats Abroad. All three sites will guide you through the process.
After you’ve finished, print, sign and date the form and follow the instructions for returning it. Some states allow voters to request ballots and return them by fax or email. You should also contact your local election office to make sure your ballot request was received.
Which state do I vote in?
Generally, use your last residential address in the United States as your voting address, even if it’s somewhere you no longer have ties. No mail will be sent there. You may also be able to use the address linked to a valid driver’s license or state-issued I.D.
You can also change your place of registration, subject to state residency requirements, but keep in mind there may be tax implications.
When should I register, request my ballot and return it?
As soon as possible. Registering early each year ensures that you receive ballots for all primary, general and special elections. Deadlines vary by state.
Instructions also vary by state for how to sign the envelope or an enclosed affidavit, so make sure you follow them carefully. Contact your local election office if you don’t get a confirmation that your ballot has been received.
What about members of the military?
Service members and spouses who are stationed overseas cannot vote at their military installations and should follow the same process for registering and requesting an absentee ballot. This list provides recommended dates for mailing your ballot based on your location. Help is also available at Installation Voter Assistance Offices.
What if I’m studying abroad?
If your school is outside your home state, you can register in either place (but not both), subject to state residency requirements. The Campus Vote Project has student guides for individual states. Follow the same process for registering and requesting an absentee ballot.
What if I’ve never lived in the United States?
Most states allow Americans who have never resided in the United States to use the voting address of a citizen parent.
Children who will turn 18 by Election Day can request their ballot now.
How do I find out what’s on the ballot?
Your local election office may send you a voter information guide, or you can consult the website for your state’s office of elections or secretary of state. Sites like Vote411.org can help you find your local ballot.
Will voting affect my tax liability?
Voting in state and local races may result in taxation at those levels.
Help! I haven’t received my ballot.
If the election is fewer than 30 days away and your ballot still hasn’t arrived, you can cast a backup vote using the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot.
But if you receive your state ballot after you send in the backup, you should still fill it out and return it — states will count backup ballots only if they don’t receive voted state ballots by the deadline.
Can I vote at my local embassy or consulate?
No. United States embassies and consulates are not official polling places, though they may provide assistance in registering to vote or obtaining a backup ballot.