Voting wasn’t at the top of my list of things to research before moving to Germany. Despite being somewhat of a political junkie personally, there were too many other more urgent and pressing needs to look into. Finding an apartment, getting the visa, and setting up all the basic necessities sat at the top of my list. I didn’t really research the logistics of voting until the beginning of the 2016 primary season. Voting should be a core principle of any engaged American. Luckily for us, American citizens who move abroad still retain their right to vote. No, there isn’t a polling place in the local pub down the street. You’ll be voting “absentee”, a.k.a. by mail or email (depending on your last State of residence).
The State Department has a great page dedicated to overseas Americans voting. I suggest reading it. They do a much better job than I ever could describing the process and how voting from abroad works. If you want a short video introduction to the topic, I’d suggest the video below from one of the vlogbrothers of YouTube. He did a whole series on voting deadlines and processes in each State and other special cases, like abroad citizens.
From the State Department’s page on Overseas Voting, they suggest filling out a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) first. The best way to move on from here is to head to FVAP.gov and select your last State of residence and take a look at your options. As I moved here from Chicago, I selected Illinois. After selecting your state, the website presents you with the various deadlines, processes, and options you have for voting. Lower down the page are quite a few very important links to check out. The resources for your State will be available to your and are the most relevant. States control the elections!
For me, I had already been registered to vote in Illinois. However, because I moved abroad, I could use Illinois’ online MOVE (Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment) State Board of Elections tools to fulfill the FPCA requirement. By creating an account with the MOVE website and filling out the Ballot Request Application, I was all setup.
For a great resource on the candidates for each office, check out Ballotpedia. Another great resource is On the Issues. If you want to fill out a quiz to discover who you align with more, I suggest heading to I Side With. In general, Google is your friend when researching candidates. However, I suggest really checking the sources on all articles to filter out bias and perspective.
Voting from Abroad
Deadlines, processes, and requirements vary by State, so please head to FVAP.gov and see what applies to you. Voting from abroad is easy. It takes 30 seconds to figure out if you’re registered to vote, and from there it depends on your State. As I said, I used the Illinois’ State Board of Elections ‘MOVE’ tool to fill out a ballot request application. I did this back in January because I voted in the primary as well. The application was sent from there to my county’s Board of Elections and it was actually approved quickly. The approval email came from the director of the Vote by Mail Department and contained my primary ballot. I emailed back and forth a few times with the director and she answered any questions I had regarding the forms and processes.
In Illinois, you can vote absentee by email, but I’m not sure which States also have this ability. In addition to the ballot, I had to fill out and sign a waiver of privacy and provide some more information about myself to make this possible, however.
As far as this November’s general election goes, I was all set from having voted in the primary. My address and information were already in the system of my county’s Vote by Mail Department of the Illinois State Board of Elections. In mid-September, I received an email with the list of candidates for each position from POTUS down to the County Recorder. Once the official Federal election ballot was available (late September), I got an email from the county Board of Elections with the ballot.
It’s good to note that returning my ballots for both the primary and this general election by email required that I had my own personal scanner. I suppose that I could have used scanners at my university, but this just seemed a bit too personal for that. Mailing addresses are provided if you are returning your ballots by mail.
Ugh, why vote?
Cringe. Regardless of what your choices are for this year’s election, I think it’s important that you vote. It’s easy to be “cool” and “aloof” and say that the elections don’t matter, maybe especially this year. I don’t think that’s the case (especially this year), and if you do, contact me through the Contact Me page. I’d love to discuss these things to try and turn your mind. Don’t forget, your district’s representative, one senator, and then your State’s legislators, administrators, and your county’s too are all up for election. If you have any questions or want to share your voting abroad experience, please comment below!
The president is the one office that every citizen of every State votes for. There are so many other important (sometimes more important) offices that need to be filled and deserve your attention. State governments are very powerful, and your local government can have an even bigger impact on your day-to-day life.
Get out and VOTE.
Or rather, stay in, research the candidates and offices, fill out the circles and MAIL or EMAIL your VOTE to the correct Elections Board.