Voting While You’re Away From Home: The Absentee Voting Process

When you live around the corner from your local polling place, voting doesn't require a lot of planning on your part. Just head over before the polls close, right? But what happens when you are away from your registered district or deployed overseas? You obviously can't walk to your local polling place, but voting can be just as easy. When military life takes you away from home — with a deployment or a move — you and your family members can use an absentee ballot and ensure your voices are heard on Election Day.

Getting started with absentee voting

It only takes a few quick steps to make sure your vote is counted no matter where you are in the world.

  • Complete the Federal Post Card Application — The FPCA is a quick and easy way to start the absentee voting process. It's standardized for use across all states and acts as both a registration and an absentee ballot request form in one! You can fill it out online with the help of an assistant, download a PDF version or pick up a hardcopy version from your unit voting assistance officer.
  • Sign and send the FPCA to your local election office — Your local election office is the county where you have established residency. You can find the address you need and more information about your state's instructions for how to do this here. You can also ask for the address from your voting assistance officer.
  • Receive your absentee ballot
  • Vote, sign and return the ballot — After voting and signing your ballot, return it to your state before the election deadline arrives.

Votes from service members and their families who are away from their home state or overseas make up an important part of every election. Often people have the false idea that absentee ballots only count in close elections and that's just not true! The difference is that in a close election, the media reports that the outcome can't be announced until after the absentee ballots are counted, but all ballots are counted in the final totals for every election.

Handling the "what ifs"

What if you don't receive your ballot on time and the deadline is approaching? What if you don't know when your state's deadline is because you just moved? Don't worry — you have options!

  • Use an emergency backup ballot — If you do not receive your ballot and are in danger of missing the absentee voting deadline, your voting assistance officer can provide you with an emergency or backup ballot called an SF 186 Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, or you can use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot online assistant to walk you through filling out the form. All states accept this ballot for all federal elections.
  • Know your state's absentee deadline — Every state sets its own deadline for when absentee ballot applications are due, as well as for the ballots themselves, so make sure you figure it out ahead of time. You can learn everything you need to know about your state's deadlines here. In addition, the Military Postal Service Agency estimates mail delivery times from all over the world before each election, so they take the guesswork out of it for you.
  • Submit a new FPCA every year and when you move — To avoid all of stress of approaching deadlines, submit a new FPCA every year and when you move. This way you are prepared for every election season and don't have to pray to the mail gods to get your vote delivered on time.

People and programs who can help

Whether you like to go online to get information or talk to someone in person, there are resources available to help.

  • Get to know your voting assistance officer — Your voting assistance officer is responsible for getting you any materials you need to register to vote and file an absentee ballot.
  • Become familiar with all the resources available through the Federal Voting Assistance Program - The FVAP works to ensure service members and their eligible family members have the tools and resources to vote successfully from anywhere in the world. The FVAP website includes helpful fact sheets, service-specific information, applications, contact information and more. You can also contact them at 800-438-VOTE (8683) or

Don't take your right to vote for granted. It shouldn't be pushed aside just because you can't get to the voting booth. Make sure you take these simple steps to ensure your voice is counted on Election Day.


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