Editor's note: This article was updated on Sept. 22nd
With less than two months to go until the U.S. presidential election, American expats are more unsure than ever about whether their efforts to vote this year will pay off. Media reports of postal delays and other issues have caused many to wonder how, if at all, they can boost the chances their vote will arrive in time to be counted.
Here, Laura Mosedale, co-chair of voter registration for Democrats Abroad UK and a Federal Voting Assistance Program-certified voting assistance official, provides an update on this fast-moving situation...
For weeks, U.S. citizens resident abroad have been hearing about severe postal mail delays, both to and within the United States. Given the fact that overseas citizens only get their ballots 45 days before the general election – which was Sept. 19 this year (already passed) – many are eager to know what, if anything, they can do to ensure that their ballots will arrive in time to be counted.
The first step: make sure you are registered to vote and have requested your ballot this year.
Overseas citizens, even if already registered, should request their ballots every calendar year they want to vote. So if you have not requested your ballot, or have not voted in your state primary this year, go to votefromabroad.org to request it now.
Most states will let you email the ballot request form. Choose to receive your blank ballot by email, because you’ll get it faster.
Make sure to check that your state election official received your ballot request form.
If you are requesting your ballot after September 19, you should receive it within a few days if you submitted your request by email, or a week or longer if you submitted your request by postal mail. But don’t delay – because state registration deadlines for registration and ballot request start falling in October.
The second step: find out how you as an overseas citizen can submit your voted ballot. For the most up-to-date information on this, go to www.votefromabroad.org/states.
Most states allow some form of electronic submission: email, web portal and/or fax. Check what methods your state permits – and be aware that the rules are constantly changing! Some states that previously allowed only postal mail ballots have recently changed their rules to allow electronic ballot submission – including Iowa, Missouri and Vermont.
The third step: if you do have electronic ballot submission options, this is the year to take advantage of them.
Remember to check for your blank ballot in your inbox (and spam filter) and return it right away. If you already requested to get your ballot by email this year, it should have been sent out by September 19.
For more information, go to: https://www.votefromabroad.org/faqs/22.
Most states also you to track your ballot, or you can email your election official to confirm it was received and accepted. To do this, again go to votefromabroad.org/states, then scroll to the bottom to where it says "Where is my ballot?"
If you must return your voted ballot by postal mail, you can vote today using a Federal Write In Absentee ballot, or FWAB. This is a special back-up ballot for overseas voters, when they’re concerned about ballot return times. For complete instructions, go to votefromabroad.org/fwab.
If you vote by FWAB, you should still check your inbox for your state ballot on September 19, and mail it in, too. This is NOT voting twice! If both your FWAB and your state ballot arrive in time to be counted, your election official will discard the FWAB, and count only the state ballot.
Why send in the state ballot too? According to voting experts, voters make fewer errors on official state ballots, and these are also said to be easier for election offices to process. In addition, some states will only allow you to use the FWAB to vote for candidates for federal offices (president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House) – so if you vote in state and local elections, you may only be able to do so on the state ballot.
What expat voters need to remember this year is that election officials are going to be coping with record numbers of absentee ballots this year, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. So voting experts urge expats to make their voting plans now; vote by the fastest method their state allows, and vote as early as they can.
Laura Mosedale is co-chair of voter registration for Democrats Abroad UK, and a Federal Voting Assistance Program-certified voting assistance official. A native New Yorker, she has been living in London with her family for more than 20 years. As anyone who knows her will tell you, she is passionate about dispelling the myths and misconceptions about voting from abroad, in an effort to begin to unlock a potentially significant U.S. voting bloc.