US citizens can vote from abroad, but should request ballots as soon as possible

People who plan to vote should be sure to send in a ballot request and consider using a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 21.08.2020 14:48 (updated on 21.08.2020)

American citizens living in the Czech Republic, and elsewhere outside the United States, can still vote in US Federal elections, including the November 3 presidential election.

Ballots for the presidential election should be mailed from the US on September 19, and should be completed and sent back right away.

But if you are used to your ballot simply showing up, this year things are different. In many cases you now need to specifically request a ballot, and you should double-check that your registration is still valid, even if you voted recently.

Each state has different rules, but there is no harm in requesting a ballot if you are unsure that one will be sent automatically. Some states allow people to send requests for ballots via email, while others require a paper version with an ink signature.

The state that you would request a ballot from is the last state where you lived before moving overseas. You last address is your voting address, even if you no longer plan to return there.

Due to concerns over voter fraud, people who were previously registered might have had their names removed from the voting rolls. You can also check online to make sure you are still registered either on the website for the election office for your state or via the sites of non-profit organizations such as Vote.org or Rock the Vote, among others.

Several online tools can help you register to vote and request a ballot — Vote from Abroad is run by the Democratic Party Committee Abroad (Democrats Abroad), Republicans Overseas also has an information site, and the government operates the Federal Voter Assistance Program.

“Normally, it’s not that complicated to vote from abroad, but 2020 is no normal year. The COVID-19 crisis has caused severe distress to postal systems around the world, including the United States, resulting in significant delays to delivery of mail. It’s important that voters in states that require voted ballot return by postal mail take early action to request their absentee ballots, and then vote and return them as soon as possible,” Julia Bryan, global chair of Democrats Abroad, said.

Those states that require the use of postal mail are Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Each state has a different deadline for when the filled in absentee ballot sent by mail has to be received in order for it to be counted. These range from one day before election day in Mississippi to 14 days after election day in Illinois. Most states require them back on election day, and no state accepts a ballot postmarked after election day.

People don’t need to wait for the absentee ballot, which due to current the state of the mail system, may be delayed so much that its timely return isn’t guaranteed, Instead, people can send in a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), which can be obtained from the Federal Voter Assistance Program website. These can be sent now.

But there is a catch. “This year states will not accept a write-in ballot unless they have already received a ballot request,” Bryan said.

The FWAB is an emergency backup specifically for overseas voters who are concerned their official state ballot may not arrive in time to be sent back by the deadline.

If you send in an FWAB and then receive an official state ballot, you can mail that in the state ballot as well. If both ballots arrive in time, the FWAB will be discarded and only the official state ballot will be counted. But, if your official state ballot is delayed and misses the deadline, your FWAB will be counted as your vote. Mailing in both ballots is not considered voting twice, as the FWAB is an emergency backup. Only one is counted.

People who live in states that accept voted ballots by email or fax still have to make sure they request a ballot as soon as possible so they can receive one when ballots are sent out on September 19.

Deadlines for requesting ballots vary from state to state, and these can be found online either the state’s election board site or the other voting assistance websites. In all cases, people should act soon.