Are you an American living on Vancouver Island (or elsewhere!) and wondering how you can participate in the upcoming 2020 General Election?
For Americans living abroad, it’s important to register for an absentee ballot so you can exercise your right to vote.
Here’s a step-by-step guide that will help make the process a little bit easier.
Step One: determine the state you vote in
American voters living abroad vote in their state of last residence—in other words the state you last lived in. This will be the state you vote in by absentee ballot, and also where you send your registration information.
This is where it gets a little complicated.
Step Two: fill out your Federal Post Card Application (FPCA)
The FPCA is what allows you to vote as an American citizen abroad, under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
The FPCA serves as both a way of registering yourself to vote, and a way to request an absentee ballot.
Some states, such as Illinois, do have automatic voter registration, but no matter what state you last lived in, you will have to fill out an FPCA to receive an absentee ballot.
In other words, regardless of registration status, you should fill out and submit a FPCA to your last state of residence if you’re planning on voting abroad.
Step Three: send in your completed FPCA
Most states allow email, fax or online submissions for FPCAs. However, these states require you to physically mail your FPCA:
- Alabama (postmarked by Oct. 19, 2020)
- Arkansas (postmarked by Nov. 1, 2020)
- Connecticut (postmarked by Nov. 2, 2020)
- New York (received by Oct. 14, 2020)
- California and Wisconsin (postmarked by Oct. 14, 2020; unless already registered to vote)
- Idaho, Florida, Maryland and South Dakota – if registering to vote (postmarked by Oct. 5, 2020)
Note that you have to submit a new FPCA each year, as well as any time you move, or change your name, email, or address.
Each state also has its own deadline for submitting your FPCA. Details for those deadlines are available online at the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website: fvap.gov/guide.
For the upcoming general election, the earliest cutoff deadline for a postmarked FPCA is in Puerto Rico, which has a postmark deadline of Sept. 15.
Past that, a handful of states including Alaska and South Carolina have FPCA deadlines of Oct. 4, and others are later.
The best rule of thumb is to get your FPCA submitted early, following the guidelines for your state of last residence at fvap.gov/guide.
If you’re mailing your FPCA, the FVAP website has templates that you can print that allow you to mail postage-free. However, you may still have to supply your own postage if you are mailing from outside the US.
You can find those templates at fvap.gov/eo/overview/materials/forms.
Step Four: receive your blank ballot
States will begin mailing out ballots 45 days before the election.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the last state to begin mailing ballots is Washington, 18 days before election day.
The FVAP website recommends that if you have not received your ballot 30 days before the election, that you complete a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).
You can complete a FWAB by visiting the FVAP website link here: https://www.fvap.gov/r3/fwab/state
If your regular absentee ballot arrives after you have submitted a FWAB, you should still complete and return the regular ballot. A FWAB will only be counted if your regular absentee ballot does not reach election officials before your state’s deadline, and you will not invalidate your vote or be counted twice.
Once you receive your regular absentee ballot, there’s just one more step to go.
Step Five: filling out and returning your ballot
Methods for returning your ballot differ according to the state you are voting in. Most states offer multiple methods including mail, email, online submission or fax.
These states and territories only allow return of absentee ballots by mail:
- American Samoa
- Iowa (email or fax allowed for overseas Uniformed Service member, OR if you are located in a hostile fire area)
- Missouri (email or fax allowed only if you are in a hostile fire area)
- New Hampshire
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- South Dakota
- Texas (fax allowed only if you are in a hostile fire area)
Most states require that your ballot is either postmarked or received by November 3, regardless of return method.
Detailed information on how you return your ballot, including addresses for mailed ballots, can be found by clicking your state of last residence at fvap.gov/guide/chapter2.
Step six: additional help
If you’re still looking for help and information on voting in the American election while abroad in Canada or elsewhere, you can also turn to your local embassy or consulate.
In addition to providing voting forms and information about absentee voting, U.S. embassies and consulates can mail voter registration, absentee ballot request forms, and completed ballots back to the United States.
Embassies and consulates can also notarize or witness voting materials if required by your state.This service is supplied free of charge but should be booked in advance by appointment.
They will also be able to help you with estimated mail transit times and advise you on local mailing options, including courier services.
Note that you will still have to supply your own postage fees or use the printable envelope templates from the FVAP website at fvap.gov/eo/overview/materials/forms.
Angela S. Girard, spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate General in Vancouver, wrote in an email to Victoria Buzz that they are here to help.
“The Department of State is committed to ensuring that U.S. citizens abroad are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so – from anywhere in the world.” wrote Girard.
“Our embassies and consulates communicate regularly to U.S. citizens regarding options available to register to vote and to vote from overseas.”
Step Seven: pat yourself on the back for participating in democracy
If you’re looking for more useful tools for living and voting abroad while retaining your U.S. citizenship, Girard suggests registering for an online program for American abroad.
“We do encourage American citizens to register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program https://step.state.gov to receive important information from the Embassy about health and safety conditions, as well as information about overseas voting.”
But otherwise, give yourself a pat on the back for exercising your constitutional rights.
You definitely deserve it.