Voting while you're away from home: The absentee voting process

by Military OneSource
Military OneSource

Voting is easy when you live around the corner from your local polling destination. Just head over before the polls close, right? But it's not so smooth when you are away from your district or deployed overseas. If so, you might not be walking to your voting booth, but casting your ballot can be just as easy.

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's easy to get going.

Getting started with absentee voting

It only takes a few quick steps to cast your vote no matter where you are in the world:
• Complete the Federal Post Card Application. The Federal Voting Assistance Program encourages the use of the Federal Post Card Application since it is a quick and easy way to start the absentee voting process. The FPCA is standardized for use across all states and extends your eligibility to receive a ballot for all federal elections in which you are eligible to vote. It acts as both a registration and an absentee ballot request form, so military voters are encourage to submit a new FPCA every year and each time they 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. You can find the address you need and more information about your state's instructions for how to do this here. You can also ask for the address from your voting assistance officer.
• Receive your absentee ballot.
• Vote, sign and return the ballot. After voting and signing your ballot, return it to your state before the election deadline arrives.
Votes from service members and their families who are away from their home state matter in every election. The media often reports that the outcome of a close race can't be announced until after absentee ballots are counted. So what? What matters is all votes, including yours, are counted in the final tally for every election.

How do I handle all the possible "what ifs?"

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? Don't worry, you have 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 Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot online assistant to help you fill out the form. All states accept this ballot for all federal elections.
• 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 here. 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 outlined in this brochure.
• Submit a new FPCA every year and when you move. To avoid the dreaded "approaching deadline stress," 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 and won't have to pray to the mail gods to deliver your vote on time.

Where can I ask for help?

You can get assistance online or face-to-face:
• Get to know your voting assistance officer. Your voting assistance officer at the installation is responsible for helping you register to vote and file an absentee ballot. 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. The FVAP helps service members and their eligible family members vote from anywhere in the world. The FVAP website includes helpful fact sheets (both on your Federal Post Card Application and your absentee ballot), service-specific information, details for spouses and eligible family members, applications, contact information and more. You can also contact them at 800-438-VOTE (8683) or

Don't take your right to vote for granted and push it aside just because you can't get to the voting booth. Keep track of your state’s primary election dates and take these simple steps to ensure your voice is counted on Election Day.

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