U.S. Citizens Abroad: All You Need To Know to Vote in 2020

A globe accompanied by small text that says "EXPLAINER" and large text that says “Overseas Voting"

Americans who are eligible to vote can do so from all over the world, no matter how long they have lived abroad or if they have maintained a residence in the United States.

Every state is required by the federal Military and Overseas Voters Empowerment Act (the “MOVE Act”) to provide blank absentee ballots to military and overseas voters (“UOCAVA voters”) in at least one electronic format — email, fax or online delivery system. Every state must do so at least 45 days before an election. This year, that date is Sept. 19, 2020.

However, the MOVE Act does not specify how civilian ballots should be returned to the United States — that decision is up to each state. Currently, 30 states allow UOCAVA voters to submit their completed ballots electronically; 20 states still require hard copy ballot returns.

So how can overseas voters properly register, receive their ballots and send them back in time to count in the November 2020 election?

Here’s some information you need to know:

1. Register as a UOCAVA voter.

Voters should make sure they are properly registered as a UOCAVA voter at their U.S.-based local elections office (LEO). You can do this online at votefromabroad.org. Here you can fill in, sign and then return your ballot registration or request form, known as the Federal Postcard Application (FPCA). We strongly urge voters to request to receive their ballot by email so that it will arrive without delay before or on Sept. 19.

2. Keep in mind that you need to request your ballot every calendar year you would like to vote in.

By requesting your ballot, you federally protect your vote and ensure it will be counted in case of a tight election.

3. Check the deadlines, ballot transmission and certain identification requirements for your state.

Votefromabroad.org provides state specific information when filling out the form. You can also look up state requirements at votefromabroad.org/states. If you have any further questions you can email [email protected].

4. If you are required to return your ballot in a hard copy form, confirm that the country you are in is sending mail to the United States.

The list of countries not sending mail to the United States is being regularly updated on the U.S. Postal Service site here. If regular postal mail is not an option, or will simply take too long, other options are:

  • Private courier service. Every hard copy ballot return state has confirmed that it accepts ballots from abroad via private courier. This is an expensive but speedy solution.
  • Diplomatic pouch. In many countries, voters may deliver their sealed ballots to their local U.S. embassy or consulate. Before drop off, voters need to seal their ballot in a postage paid return envelope or have added sufficient U.S. postage to their ballot’s envelope for delivery to their election office from within the United States. U.S. postage-paid templates are available to download here. However, it is still important to check with your embassy as some countries are estimating delayed delivery times of several weeks or up to multiple months.

5. If you have postal mail delivery issues, vote with an FWAB.

Recognizing the need for overseas voters to be able to return their ballots in a timely manner, the federal government allows UOCAVA voters to use the Federal Write In Absentee Ballot, or FWAB, in cases where it will not be possible to send in a regular ballot prior to election deadlines. This option is only available to UOCAVA voters (so register and request your ballot first if you haven’t already!) and are available now. To access an FWAB, go to votefromabroad.org/fwab for more information and state specific details.

6. Vote as soon as possible.

Voters can and should mail in their ballots to the USPS as needed or required, and efforts are being taken at every level to ensure that they are processed expeditiously.

Voting abroad, especially during the pandemic, is complicated. It is not uncommon for state and local election officials to be unaware of the federal requirements for overseas voters.

If your LEO is not familiar with some of the legal points mentioned above, please email [email protected] to report the situation. A voting expert will follow up with the LEO to try to resolve the issue.

Any American abroad eligible to vote can do so no matter where they live in the world. By following the above steps, U.S. citizens voting abroad can make sure their ballots are sent back in time to be counted.

Democrats Abroad is the official organization of the Democratic Party for United States citizens living permanently or temporarily abroad.