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U.S. Citizens Abroad, Learn How to Become an Absentee Voter

Several U.S. embassy official websites have a message for U.S. citizens abroad: “Don’t the elections pass you by”

The U.S. election is set for 3rd November 2020. With a month to go, U.S. citizens have been urged to register and vote. Choosing to live abroad does not exclude anyone from voting. Americans living abroad can choose to exercise their rights, regardless of their current residency. In this case, returning completed ballots should be done as soon as possible.

Referring to U.S. embassy websites, it reminds voters, “If you plan to vote in the November 2020 election, it is important to ACT NOW! U.S. embassies and consulates are not polling places; same-day in-person voting is not available outside the United States – but you can get assistance in requesting and returning your absentee ballot. Many states require completed ballots to reach local election officials by the close of polls on Tuesday, November 3.”

As long as you’re a U.S. citizen who is eligible to vote, becoming an absentee voter is the way to go. Consul of the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, Ted Janis, explains he US classifies an absentee voter as anyone living away from their place of regular voting until the election date.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), a federal government program with great resources to assist Americans to vote, states “this absentee voting process applies to U.S. citizens protected by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), which are:

  • Members of the Uniformed Services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps)
  • Members of the Merchant Marines
  • Eligible family members of the above
  • U.S. citizens residing outside the U.S.”

Ted notes that absentee voting is a normal procedure. Every eligible voter can vote; it’s a fast and easy process anywhere in the world.

FVAP states that potential voters need to follow these steps on absentee voting:

  1. Register to vote and request your ballot in one easy step. Fill out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and send it to your election office.
  2. Fill out and send in your ballot when it arrives.

The big difference for voters in Indonesia, according to Ted, is its geographical location – far from the United States meaning a longer timeframe to have the ballots received back at U.S election offices.

Fortunately, there’s a website to assist with all of the information voters need; fvap.gov. When voters go to FVAP, they can select their state of residence to start the registration process. Ted stated that many people question their state of residence when they’ve been living abroad for awhile, have never lived in the US but is a legitimate citizen, and other cases. FVAP will give guidance.

“Many states require voters to physically mail their ballots while some states accept them by email. Since every state in the U.S territory has different processes and requirements for absentee voters, it’s very important to know where your state is and its instructions,” said Ted.

Voters in Indonesia should try to send their ballots to either the U.S. Consulate in Bali or the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta by 2nd October 2020. “This is a recommended deadline. We will keep delivering ballots, as long as we get them,” pointed out Ted.

Every state has a different deadline to when they preferably receive the ballots. Since 3rd November is the election, it takes about four weeks for any voting materials from Bali and/or Jakarta to make it back to the U.S. before election day. Ted explained that the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Indonesia can assist any voters to get their registration details and returning their ballots to the U.S. There are various methods that voters can choose from to return their ballots.

Voters can physically drop off their ballots at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta and the consulate in Bali. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta has a ballot box where voters can drop off their ballot and have it shipped back to their local election office in the U.S. Meanwhile, voters residing in Bali can email [email protected] and schedule their appointment to drop off their ballots in the consulate for shipping back to the U.S. Both returning methods requires no postage fee. “All you need is a postage envelope which you can download for free at fvap.gov,” said Ted.

Voters who can’t leave their homes or prefer to avoid crowds can also mail their ballots to these respective places instead. In fact, voters can internationally ship their ballots with DHL, for instance – personally paying the postage fee to the U.S.

There are quicker ways to return ballots as well. Some states have the option to email or fax back the ballots.

“If your state accepts fax but you don’t have a fax machine, you can email your ballot to [email protected] as not a lot of people have a fax machine these days,” Ted added.

Ensure your ballot is sealed and follow the instructions; different states have different processes and requirements. “But once those sealed ballots are received, we guarantee that they will stay sealed and then shipped back to the US, in the local voting offices,” Ted assured.

With social restrictions in place and some people perhaps staying in remote areas, this can cause obstacles to getting ballots sent, the changing regulations in every state makes it a challenge. A friend from New York does not have the same requirements as you who’s from California, for example. Thus FVAP will reflect any emerging changes.

Meanwhile, for those who have very little time to receive and send back their ballots before the election deadline, Ted suggests using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) as a back-up ballot, which can be used in any voting area. Simply print it out and send it to the respective local election office.

Sent ballots can be tracked by directly contacting the local election office to confirm whether your ballot has been received. Remember to check it this way because voting is done at the local level, not federal. Contact information is available on FVAP’s website.

“Your vote counts. Submit it as soon as possible and make sure to follow all instructions so that your vote is well-received,” concluded Ted.

Image source: TheTimes

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