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

absentee ballot request form

When military life takes you away from home, you and your family can use absentee ballots to ensure your voices are heard on Election Day. It only takes a few quick steps to cast your vote no matter where you are in the world:

Getting started with absentee voting

To make sure you cast your absentee ballot correctly:

  • Complete the Federal Post Card Application. The Federal Voting Assistance Program encourages the use of the FPCA to register to vote, request an absentee ballot and update any contact information. You can fill it out online with an assistant’s help, download a PDF version or pick up a hard-copy version from your unit voting assistance officer.
  • Visit Active-duty military and eligible dependents currently stationed in the same voting jurisdiction where they are registered to vote or who want to register can visit for more information.
  • Sign and send the FPCA to your local election office. Your local election office is in the county where you have established residency. Most states accept the FPCA by email or fax, while other states require that it be sent by mail. You can find the email, mailing address and phone number of your election office online. You can also ask your voting assistance officer for the contact information.
  • Receive your absentee ballot. After election officials process your FPCA, they will send you a blank ballot. In Section 5 of the FPCA, you can request to receive your ballot by email.
  • Vote, sign and return the ballot. After voting and signing your ballot, return it to your state prior to the ballot return deadline. Many states accept the ballot by email or fax while some require that it be sent by mail. Check your state’s specific guidelines and recommended deadlines for military and military families at

Votes from service members and their families who are away from their home state matter in every election. The outcome of a close race often can’t be announced until after absentee ballots are counted.

How to handle voting issues

If you don’t receive your ballot on time and the deadline is approaching, or if you don’t know your state’s deadline:

  • Use an emergency backup ballot. If you do not receive your requested state ballot and are in danger of missing the ballot return deadline, your voting assistance officer can help. They 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 help you fill out the form. All states accept this ballot for federal elections. In most states, voters need to have previously submitted an FPCA earlier in the election year to be eligible to use a FWAB.
  • Know your state’s absentee deadline. Every state sets its own due date for absentee ballot requests and ballot returns, so make sure you know it ahead of time. Learn everything you need to know about your state’s deadlines by selecting your state from the homepage. Also, the Military Postal Service Agency estimates mail delivery times from all over the world before each election, which eliminates guesswork. To be on the safe side, follow the recommended mailing dates.
  • Submit a new FPCA every year and every time you move. Add this task to your moving checklist so you’ll be prepared for every election cycle.

Where can I go for help?

You can get assistance online or face-to-face:

  • Get to know your voting assistance officer. The voting assistance officer at your installation is responsible for assisting you with the absentee voting process, including providing the necessary forms for you to register to vote. If you’re new to installation living, you can look up their contact information or ask your sponsor for help.
  • Become familiar with all the resources available through the Federal Voting Assistance Program. FVAP works to ensure that service members and their eligible family members are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources they need to successfully do so ─ from anywhere in the world. The FVAP website includes helpful fact sheets addressing your FPCA and your absentee ballot. It also includes service-specific informationdetails for spouses and eligible family members, applications and contact information. You can also call 800-438-VOTE (8683) or email them at

Your vote matters and, no matter where you are, you have the right to cast your ballot in every election. Learn more about primary elections, keep track of your state’s primary election dates and take these simple steps to ensure your voice is heard on Election Day.

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