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

Hands filling out absentee voting form.

When military life takes you away from home, you and your family can use an absentee ballot and 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

Here’s how 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 Federal Post Card Application to register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and update any contact information. If you (service member, military spouse or of-age dependent) are stationed or relocated outside of your voting jurisdiction, you are encouraged to submit a new FPCA every year and each time you move. 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.
  • 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 the FPCA by mail. You can find the email, mailing address and phone number of your election office. You can also ask for the contact information from your voting assistance officer.
  • Receive your absentee ballot. In Section 5 of the FPCA, you can even request to receive your ballot by email.
  • Vote, sign and return the ballot. After voting and signing your ballot, return it to your state before the ballot return deadline arrives. Check your state’s specific deadline for military and military families on FVAP.gov.

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 any voting issues

What if you don’t receive your ballot on time and the deadline is approaching? What if you don’t know your state’s deadline because you just moved? Here are your 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 FWAB (Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot) online assistant to help you fill out the form. All states accept this ballot for all federal elections. In most states, voters need to have previously submitted an FPCA earlier in that 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 applications and the actual ballot, 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 FVAP.gov home page. 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 when you move. Add this task to your moving checklist so you’ll be prepared for every election.

Where can I ask for help?

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

Your vote matters and no matter where you are, you should cast your ballot in every election. It’s your right. 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.

Your Vote Always Counts, So Be a Responsible Voter

Service member holds up voting ballot

 

Voting While You’re Away from Home

No matter where you are in the world on Election Day, you can still make your vote count. Learn more about the absentee voting process and find voting help if you need it.

It’s your civic duty as an American to vote, and a precious American right. Remember that your vote always counts – not just in close elections, but in every election. You don’t have to be an expert on the issues to cast a vote. But with the proper research, you can vote confidently this election season.

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