New absentee voting laws went into effect in 2012. You will no longer automatically receive ballots based on a previous absentee ballot request. All U.S. citizens outside the United States who want to vote by absentee ballot must complete a new Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) every year if they wish to vote from abroad. States are now required to send out ballots 45 days before an election. No matter what state you vote in, you can now ask your local election officials to provide your blank ballots to you electronically (by email, internet download, or fax, depending on your state). You can now also confirm your registration and ballot delivery on-line. Be sure to include your email address on the form to take advantage of the electronic ballot delivery option. This is the fastest and most reliable way to receive your ballot on time, and we strongly recommend every overseas voter take advantage of it. Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s (FVAP) website: www.FVAP.gov/.
Remember that your vote counts, and that many U.S. elections within the past ten years have been decided by a margin of victory of less than 0.1%. All states are required to count every absentee ballot as long as it is valid and reaches local election officials by the absentee ballot receipt deadline.
Be an Educated Voter. Check out the FVAP links page for helpful resources that will aid your research of candidates and issues. Non-partisan information about candidates, their voting records, and their positions on issues are widely available and easy to obtain via numerous websites such as Project Smart Voter. You can also read national and hometown newspapers on-line, or search the Internet to locate articles and information. For information about election dates and deadlines, subscribe to FVAP’s Voting Alerts (firstname.lastname@example.org). FVAP also shares Voting Alerts via Facebook and Twitter.
Frequently asked questions:
How do I register and vote?
You may follow the same straightforward process to obtain ballots for both federal and local elections. You need to submit a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to the voting officials in the appropriate state in the United States. Once they have received it and confirmed your registration, they will send you an absentee ballot by mail, e-mail, or fax. You can then fill out and return this ballot according to the instructions provided along with the ballot itself. Unfortunately, the Embassy in Samoa does not supply state-specific ballots, nor can you vote there on Election Day. You can, however, deliver your Absentee Ballot or Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot to the Embassy for mailing through the U.S. Postal Service at no cost. We encourage all citizens to use electronic options to submit your ballots when available, however, as this is the fastest and most secure way to ensure your vote is counted.
In which state should I vote?
You vote in the state where you have a “voting residence.” A voting residence is the legal residence or domicile in which you could vote if you were present in that state. The rules for determining that state depend on your status overseas.
- Overseas citizens (not affiliated with the U.S. Government) must vote in their last state of residence immediately prior to departure from the United States. This rule applies even if the voter no longer maintains a residence in that state or has any intention of returning to it.
- Military and Merchant Marine members, and their spouses and dependents, may register to vote in the state that the member claims as his or her residence.
- Civilian U.S. Government employees overseas, and their spouses and dependents, generally register in the state they claim as their legal residence.
- American citizens who have never resided in the United States should apply to the state where their American citizen parent(s) last resided, although they should be aware that not all states will grant such a request. Please refer to the state instructions.
What steps should I follow to register?
Take these three steps to register to vote abroad:
- To obtain an application, called a Federal Post Card Application, go to the Federal Voting Assistance Program
- complete it, and…
- mail/electronically submit the application to your state.
Obtaining the Application. You may obtain a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) in different ways. You may print one from the Federal Voting Assistance Program website or the Overseas Vote Foundation website; email or fax a request to your state of residence.
Completing the Application. The Federal Post Card Application form comes with its own set of general instructions. A good rule of thumb is to apply at least 45 days before the election to ensure that you get your materials in time to send them back before Election Day. Note also that many states will now send you your blank ballot via e-mail or fax, a service that significantly speeds up the process.
Mailing/Electronically Submitting the Application. After you have completed the Federal Post Card Application, address it to the appropriate city or county office found in the instructions.
If you choose to send the card through the Samoan postal system, you must affix international postage. If you drop the card off at the Embassy, we can send it through the U.S. postal system at no cost. You can also submit your application electronically in all states. Please follow your state’s rules on electronic submission. Assistance for your state may be found on the Federal Voting Assistance Program website.
When and how will I get my ballot?
If all goes well, your local state officials will register you and send you a ballot which you will fill out and return according to the instructions you are given. In some cases, local officials may need to contact you in order to confirm your prior residency in the state and your citizenship before they will send you a ballot. It is important to provide accurate contact information on the FPCA and to explain any unusual circumstances in the space provided.
Can I receive my ballot via e-mail or fax?
Yes, many states will now send you your blank ballot via e-mail or fax, a service that significantly speeds up the process.
When does my ballot have to be back in my precinct?
Ballot receipt deadlines vary by state. Check the Federal Voting Assistance Program website or the Overseas Vote Foundation website for information about your state.
What if my ballot doesn’t come in on time?
If you have not received your ballot, and your postcard application was mailed in time to be received by your local election official 30 days prior to the election, you may be eligible to use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote for federal offices. This ballot may be used only for general elections and is an emergency backup for voters who expect to be able to use the regular absentee ballot but who did not receive that ballot in time to vote and return it. The federal write-in ballot must be received by the local election official no later than the deadline for receipt of regular absentee ballots under state law.
Where do I get a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot if I need one?
You may obtain a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot the Embassy, or on-line at the Federal Voting Assistance Program website or the Overseas Vote Foundation website. If you receive your state ballot after you have submitted the federal absentee ballot, you still must submit the state ballot. The state ballot, not the federal absentee ballot, will then be counted.
What’s the difference between a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)?
The Federal Post Card Application is the form you use to register to vote. You send this form to your state, county, or precinct so that officials know you are a voter there.
The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot is the emergency backup voting ballot for those individuals who did not receive their regular ballot in time to vote and return it.
Can I submit my ballot at the Embassy?
While you cannot “vote” at the Embassy, you can submit your completed voter registration form or ballot to be mailed back to the United States free of charge. Please note that this process can take 4-6 weeks to reach your local election official, so please plan accordingly. When mailing your ballot, please either use a postage paid envelope or have correct U.S. domestic postage on the envelope. Stamps are not available for sale at the Embassy. It is faster to submit your election materials electronically, and we encourage voters to take advantage of this opportunity if your state allows it. If you would like to mail your ballot through the Samoan post, please ensure it has enough postage for international delivery.
In order to mail your election material through the U.S. Embassy in Apia, come in during our consular window hours from 9-11am. Your ballot must be correctly addressed to your State voting office and sealed.
When is the next election?
Presidential and state primary election dates vary by state, but the next general election is November 3, 2020. For specific presidential and state primary dates click on the following link: https://www.fvap.gov/guide/appendix/state-elections.