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.
How to vote
Registering to Vote and submitting a ballot is fast, easy, and can be done from anywhere in the world! Follow a few simple steps –register, request, receive, and return – to vote in the U.S. elections:
- Register to vote: Start by confirming your voter registration with your state. Some states require absentee voters to register annually, so you may need to re-register. Go to FVAP.gov to connect to your state’s voter portal to register to vote, request a ballot, and more.
- Request your ballot: Most states provide the option to request ballots through their state election portals, which you can easily access via FVAP.gov. You can also choose to complete a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). The completion of the FPCA allows you to request absentee ballots for all elections for federal offices (President, U.S. Senate, and U.S. House of Representatives), including primaries and special elections, during the calendar year in which it is submitted. FPCA forms that are correctly filled out and include a signature and date are accepted by all local election officials in every U.S. state and territory. FVAP’s easy online assistant can assist you with completing the FPCA.
Whether you request your ballot through your state’s portal or the FPCA, we encourage you to select the option to receive your ballot electronically (by email, internet download, or fax) when available. This is the fastest way to get your ballot and ensures you have it in time to return a completed form before your state’s deadline. Please note, you CANNOT receive your ballot at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar. Do not use the Embassy mailing address as your mailing address or your U.S. address. The Embassy cannot accept, forward, or deliver ballots addressed to you at the Embassy.
- Receive and complete your ballot: States are required to send out ballots 45 days before a regular election for federal office, and states generally send out ballots at least 30 days before primary elections. Most states allow you to confirm your ballot delivery online. If you haven’t received your blank ballot 30 days before the election, don’t wait any longer, use the emergency Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote.
- Return your completed, signed ballot: Some states allow you to return your completed ballot electronically. If your state requires you to return paper voting forms or ballots to local election officials by mail, you can do so through:
- international mail
- professional courier service (DHL, FedEx, etc.);
- or through U.S. Embassy Dakar’s diplomatic pouch.
The diplomatic pouch provides mail service from embassies and consulates to a U.S. sorting facility.
You must place your ballots in postage paid return envelopes or in envelopes bearing sufficient U.S. postage in order for them to be delivered to the proper local election authorities once received by the U.S. sorting facility. Ballots with insufficient postage cannot be sent onward. U.S. postage may be purchased and printed online through USPS.com or other vendors such as Stamps.com. U.S. postage may not be purchased at the U.S. Embassy.
All overseas U.S. citizens are advised to submit their forms and ballots as early as possible. It can take four to six weeks for mail to reach its destination if sent by an embassy or consulate via diplomatic pouch.
Ballots will be post-marked as of the date received at the Embassy and sent to the United States regularly, but you may want to consider using a courier service if submitting your ballot close to or after the stated delivery time for pouch mail.
Researching the candidates and issues
Online Resources: Go to the FVAP links page for helpful resources to 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 online. You can also read national and hometown newspapers online or search the internet to locate articles and information. For information about election dates and deadlines, subscribe to FVAP’s Voting Alerts (email@example.com). FVAP also shares Voting Alerts via Facebook (@DODFVAP), Twitter (@FVAP), and Instagram (@fvapgov).
Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s (FVAP) website, FVAP.gov. If you have any questions about registering to vote overseas, please contact us.
Remember, your vote counts!
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, send an email to DakarACS@state.gov to request a notary appointment. 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.)
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.
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.