The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) guarantees United States citizens overseas the right to vote in federal elections in the United States. (Federal elections include primaries, general and special elections for the President, Vice President, U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives to Congress.) The UOCAVA applies only to federal elections. However, many states in the United States have enacted legislation whereby certain categories of citizens residing overseas can vote by absentee ballot for state or local officials. The same procedures for obtaining local election ballots are used for obtaining federal election ballots.
In order to vote in either federal or state elections in the United States, most states require citizens residing abroad to register in the state of his or her “voting residence.” A voting residence is the legal residence or domicile in which the voter could vote if present in that state. Military and Merchant Marine members, their spouses and dependents, may register to vote in the domicile (state) that the member claims as his or her residence. Civilian U.S. government employees overseas, their spouses and dependents, will generally register in the state they claim as their legal residence. In accordance with the UOCAVA, overseas citizens (not affiliated to the US government), must vote in their last state of residence immediately prior to departure from the United States. This applies even if many years have elapsed and the voter maintains no abode nor has any intention of returning to that state.
The U.S. Embassy does not supply voting ballots. You cannot vote at the Embassy. You must request your absentee ballot using a form known as the FPCA – Federal Post Card Application. The instructions for completing the form in accordance with your state’s requirements are available in the annual Voting Assistance Guide. Information from the Guide, including state-by-state instructions for requesting absentee ballots, voting and the on-line version of the FPCA are available at www.fvap.gov. Hard copies of the Voting Guide are also available at the Consulate in limited supply. Please be advised that some states do not accept the online version of the FPCA, so it is imperative that you obtain and follow the guidelines for your state.
Fill out the FPCA using the instructions attached to the postcard. If you have difficulty in reading or understanding any English language materials, relating to voting or voter registration, please ask the consular staff for assistance. If you have questions about the instructions or if you need to know the address of the official to whom to address the postcard (e.g. the County Clerk, Board of Elections, Registrar of Voters, etc.) consult the Voting Assistance Guide extract for your state.
The Voting Assistance Guide contains up-to-date requirements and information for voting in each state. You will be given the state information applicable in your case. Note the date for applying. Once you determine the county you vote in, the Guide can give you the address and zip code of the county official to which you must address your FPCA. Note: many states will accept the FPCA as a multipurpose form, i.e. it can be used as an application for registration and/or an absentee ballot. In the event that your voting state does not accept the FPCA for all purposes, the state will mail you a registration form, which must be completed. In some cases the form must be notarized before an American consular officer or notary public abroad. In those states, only after the registration form is fully executed and mailed will you receive an absentee ballot.
If the state requires that you take an oath to the contents of the FPCA, bring it to the Embassy’s Voting Unit for notarization along with your passport. All notarization services on voting materials are performed free of charge. If you cannot appear before a consular officer, you may have it witnessed by a local solicitor or notary public. (There will be a charge in that case.)
An FPCA may be mailed, free of postage, through the Embassy if the envelope indicates that postage has been pre-paid or you’ve placed proper postage on the envelope. Also check the extract from the Voting Assistance Guide for your state as many of the states now allow you to fax your ballot.
Factors in Determining Tax Domicile
Federal law provides that no tax liability may be imposed based on exercising your right to vote in Federal elections, e.g., the President, Vice President, U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives to Congress. If you are a civilian citizen residing outside the U.S. and wish to avoid classifying yourself as a state resident for tax purposes, you should check “Other U.S. citizen residing outside U.S.” on the FPCA. You will normally receive a Federal ballot only. If the state sends you a full ballot because it does not print a separate Federal ballot, you may vote the full ballot without incurring a tax liability.
Note, however, that some applications for ballots or the ballots themselves will ask you whether you want to vote for state officials up for election, e.g. candidates for governor, candidates for the state legislatures. The law only covers federal officials. If you decide to vote for state officials, some states may find that your actions in registering to vote for state officials or actually voting for state officials will allow the particular state to consider voting as a factor in determining tax domicile. Before voting for state officials consult the Voting Assistance Guide that lists the states operating in this manner. To reiterate, if you register to vote and vote only for federal officials the law precludes the federal government and state or local governments from using voting in determining your tax domicile.
Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot
Overseas voters may be eligible to use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) to vote for federal offices (President/Vice President, Senator, and Representative). The FWAB may be used only for general elections and is a backup for voters who expect to be able to use the regular absentee ballot from their state or territory but who did not receive that ballot in time to vote and return it. The FWAB must be received by the local election official no later than the deadline for receipt of regular absentee ballots under state law. The FWAB is to be used to assist those voters who would be disenfranchised through no fault of their own, and is not designed as a replacement for the regular state ballot. It is valid only when your application for a regular absentee ballot was mailed in time to be received by your local election official 30 days prior to this election or this requirement has been waived by the appropriate local election authority. When you send in the FWAB you must swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the above is true.
The FWAB’s can be obtained by contacting the Embassy’s Consular Section at 33-879-40-00, Monday through Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 12 p.m., or by e-mail at DakarACS@state.gov. You may pickup a FWAB in person at the Embassy at any time up to the election date during the above hours.
Denial of Right to Vote
Any person who believes that he or she has been wrongfully denied the right to vote should follow the procedures outlined in the Voting Assistance Guide. Alternatively, contact the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. 20520.
- Complete the FPCA and return it to the address shown in the State instruction leaflet. Do not mail it to the Embassy – this may delay receipt of your ballot.
- Apply in good time – at least 45 days before the election.
- There are no facilities to vote at the Embassy.