Our system of government depends on the active participation of our citizens in the electoral process. It is not only the right of American citizens to vote, it is their duty to do so. Being overseas certainly does not relieve us of this civic duty but it does make it more difficult. While our friends back home can cast their vote between errands or on the way to work, we must deal with absentee ballot requests and mailing times back to our various states of residence.
You can vote by absentee ballot, even if you were never registered, from your “legal state of residence. For voting purposes this is the state where you last resided immediately prior to your departure from the U.S. If you never resided in the United States, you can register and vote in the last state your parents resided in before your birth.
Unfortunately, every Election Day, we do have citizens coming to our office looking for a voting machine. We cannot provide that service. Oversight of elections is reserved to each of the fifty states and the Federal government is not involved. However, there are several things we at the Embassy can do to help citizens vote in the elections held by their home states.
We have information about requesting absentee ballots from each of the fifty states. Remember that every citizen has a right to vote for Federal offices (President, Vice President, Senator, and Congressman.) Many states have liberal laws about letting overseas residents vote in state and local elections, too. To receive this information, send a request to our offices. Provide your mailing address and specify the state in which you will be voting. We will mail you the necessary materials to register (if you haven’t already) and to request the absentee ballot.
- If your particular state requires that the registration or ballot be signed under oath, the Office of American Citizen Services can witness your signature at no charge.
- If your request for a ballot is received by local election officials at least 30 days in advance of the election but it does not arrive in time to complete it and mail back, we can provide an emergency write-in ballot for you to get your vote in to be counted.
You may also obtain guidance directly from the Federal Voter Assistance Program at their website: www.fvap.gov
Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act
On October 28, 2009, Congress enacted the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. This legislation amends existing law regarding overseas voting in federal elections, and should make voting easier for overseas Americans.
Beginning with the November 2010 general election, and for all subsequent general, special, and primary elections, states will be required to mail out ballots at least 45 days prior to an election for a federal office. This requirement may cause some states to select earlier primary dates in order to comply with the 45 day mailing deadline, or to request waivers due to special circumstances.
In addition to mailing ballots to overseas voters, the states will be required, at the voter’s request, to provide registration forms, absentee ballot request forms, and blank ballots via fax or email. However, each state’s laws determine whether ballot requests or voted ballots can be returned via fax or email. The new law prohibits states from rejecting marked ballots based on notarization, paper size, or paper weight requirements. The witnessing requirements of individual states remain in place.
Overseas Absentee Ballot Requests
Effective immediately, states will no longer be required by federal law to continue to mail election materials to overseas addresses (even when they are determined to be invalid) for two complete general election cycles on the basis of a single ballot request. It will now be up to each state to determine how long to continue to send out election materials before requiring overseas voters to submit new ballot requests. This change, sought by local election officials, should greatly decrease the volume of voting materials sent abroad to addresses where Americans no longer reside.
State Department Recommendations
In light of these changes, the Department of State recommends that all U.S. voters residing abroad request absentee ballots from their local election officials at the start of each calendar year, and whenever there is a change of address, change of e-mail address, or change of name, by completing and sending in a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). To locate information on your specific state’s requirements, and to obtain an on-line version of the FPCA, please visit www.fvap.gov. Voters may also pick up a hard copy of the FPCA from any U.S. embassy or consulate. FPCAs may be mailed to your local voting officials in the United States via international mail or from any U.S. embassy or consulate. Many states allow U.S. citizens overseas to submit the FPCA by e-mail or fax.
The Department of State strongly encourages all U.S. overseas voters to provide email addresses or fax numbers on their FPCAs to enable local election officials to transmit election materials in the fastest manner available, which should then allow sufficient time for the return of voted ballots. For information regarding your specific state, please visit www.fvap.gov.
The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) serves as an emergency ballot for the November general elections for federal offices, although some states also permit its use for elections for state and local offices. Beginning in January 2011, the new law allows use of the FWAB for primary, special, and runoff elections for federal offices. Voters who request an absentee ballot in advance of their state’s ballot request deadline, but who fail to receive an official ballot from local election officials in time to vote, should complete the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot and send it back to local election officials in time for it to be counted. An on-line version of the FWAB, together with instructions for its use, is available at www.fvap.gov.
The Voting Assistance Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Malta is also available to answer questions about absentee voting. To contact the Voting Assistance Officer, please call the Embassy or send an e-mail to ConsularMalta@state.gov.