Voting Assistance

Federal Voting Assistance Program

The Federal Voting Assistance Program

Frequently Asked Questions

The following questions and answers also appear in the How to Do It- Vote Absentee brochure.

Can I vote absentee?
Generally, all U.S. citizens 18 years or older who are or will be residing outside the United States during an election period are eligible to vote absentee in any election for Federal office. In addition, all members of the Armed Forces, their family members and members of the Merchant Marine and their family members, who are U.S. citizens, may vote absentee in state and local elections.

How do I apply for an absentee ballot?
Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) is accepted by all states and territories as either an application for registration form or for registration, or as an application for absentee ballot. You may also send a written request for a ballot to your county, city, town or parish clerk.

I would like to vote but don't know how. Where can I find assistance?
Specific information on applying for absentee registration and a ballot is contained in the
Voting Assistance Guide. Hard copies of the Guide are available from Voting Assistance Officers assigned to units of military installations and at each U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In addition, hard copies are also available at U.S. citizen organizations overseas, corporate offices of U.S. companies and also available for sale to the public from the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. Members of the Armed Forces and Embassy/Consulate personnel can obtain hard copies and CD-ROM versions of the Guide through their normal distribution channels or by contacting their Service or Department of State Voting Action Officer. Other overseas citizens can request these materials by contacting the FVAP directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Do I have to be registered to vote absentee?
Registration requirements vary from state to state. Many states and territories allow the citizen to register and request an absentee ballot by submitting a single FPCA
. However, other states may require the use of two separate FPCA forms: one to register, and a second FPCA to request an absentee ballot. Consult Chapter 3 of the Voting Assistance Guide for specifics.

Where do I send my FPCA?
Chapter 3 of the
Guide outlines absentee voting procedures for each state and territory. In your state or territory of legal voting residence under the heading of "Where to Send It" you will find a list of addresses for county and local election officials. At present, there are no provisions to allow for submission of the FPCA through the Internet.

Must I submit a separate application for each election?
In some states and territories you must submit a separate FPCA
 for each election. Many states and territories accept a single FPCA for all ballots issued during an election year. When in doubt, send a separate application for each election.

If I am required to have my FPCA or ballot notarized, how do I do it?
Generally, election materials may be witnessed or sworn to before a notary, U.S. Commissioned Officer, Embassy or Consular officer or other official authorized to administer oaths. Most states and territories do not require notarization of the FPCA
 or ballot, therefore consult Chapter 3 of the Guide to determine your state's or territory's requirements. In all instances you must sign the FPCA.

When mailing an FPCA or other election materials to my state or territory, do I have to pay postage?
Generally, all election-related materials are mailed postage paid from any APO or FPO mail facility, all U.S. Embassies and Consulates and any post office in the U.S. You must pay postage if the materials are mailed from a non-U.S. postal facility. As mentioned earlier, at present, there are no provisions to allow for submission of the FPCA
 through the Internet.

When is the best time to apply for an absentee ballot?

Generally, FPCA
 used to request only a ballot should be received by election officials at least forty-five days before election day to allow ample time to process the request and mail the ballot. If applying for both registration and an absentee ballot, the FPCA may have to be mailed earlier. Consult Chapter 3 of the Guide for further information on state or territorial deadlines. Be sure to advise your election official of any change to your address.

When should I receive my ballot?
Under normal circumstances, most states and territories begin mailing ballots to citizens 30-45 days before an election. If you have not received your ballot two weeks before the election, contact the Federal Voting Assistance Program's (FVAP) Ombudsman Service to assist in determining when your ballot was mailed. Always execute and return your absentee ballot regardless of when you receive it. Court decisions sometimes require the counting of ballots voted by election day, but received late. See also Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot

What is an election for Federal office?
An election for Federal office is any general, special, or primary election held solely or in part for the purpose of selecting, nominating, or electing any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the United States Senate, Member of the United States House of Representatives, Delegates from the District of Columbia, Guam, Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, and Resident Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

What is the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) for overseas citizens?

Overseas citizens may be able to use a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)
 available through Voting Assistance Officers at military installations or at Embassies/Consulates. To be eligible for this ballot, a citizen must:

  1. Be located overseas (including APO/FPO addresses).
  2. Apply for a regular ballot early enough so that the request is received by the local election official at least 30 days before the election.
  3. Not have received the requested regular absentee ballot.

In summary, the FWAB is only valid when a regular ballot from the state or territory has already been requested, in a timely manner, and has not been received. Return the voted FWAB to the local election official to meet the state or territorial deadline for counting.

Presently, the states of
Iowa, Montana, Rhode Island , Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia allow the FWAB to be used by military and overseas civilian citizens in elections other than general elections, or for offices other than Federal offices.

Where would I obtain information on issues and positions taken by candidates?
In addition to reading U.S. news magazines and newspapers, both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad maintain overseas offices and have information pertaining to candidates and issues. U.S. Embassies and Consulates can provide the local addresses or phone numbers for these organizations. Alternatively, the party organizations can be contacted by writing:

Democrats Abroad
P.O. Box 6430
Alexandria, VA 22306-0430

Republicans Abroad
310 First St., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20003

Where can I find information on state and local issues while overseas?
Surf the Web for information! Alternatively, subscribe to hometown newspapers or contact friends and relatives for information on state and local issues. Armed Forces Radio and Television Service broadcasts American news and entertainment programs throughout the world. Also, the DoD Voting Information Center (VIC) provides an avenue for obtaining information on candidates and issues for citizens voting under the UOCAVA.


What is my "legal state of residence?"
For voting purposes, your "legal state of residence" can be the state or territory where you last resided prior to entering military service or the state or territory which you have since claimed as your legal residence. To claim a new legal residence you must have simultaneous physical presence and the intent to reside at that location as your primary residence. Military and family members may change their legal residence every time they change permanent duty stations or they may retain their legal residence without change. A legal officer should be consulted before legal residence is changed because there are usually other factors which should be considered besides voting. Be sure to enter the complete address of your legal residence, including street or rural route and number, when completing the residence section of the FPCA. Even though you may no longer maintain formal ties such as property ownership to that residence, the address is needed to place you in a proper voting district, ward, precinct or parish.

Can I vote where I am stationed?
Military members may vote in the state or territory where stationed if they change their legal residence to that state or territory, even if they live on a military installation. Be advised that there are legal obligations which may be incurred, such as taxation, when changing your state or territory of residence. Therefore, consult a legal officer before making such a decision. At the present time, there are no provisions for personnel stationed outside the United States to vote, in person, where stationed.

My family members are not in the military; can they also vote absentee?
The law entitles eligible family members of military personnel to vote absentee. Family members are considered to be in the same category of absentee voter as military members and generally should follow the same procedures. Family members of military personnel residing overseas, who are U.S. citizens and who have never resided in the U.S., usually claim one of their parent's legal state of residence as their own.


If I do not maintain a legal residence in the U.S., what is my "legal state of residence?"
Your "legal state of residence" for voting purposes is the state or territory where you last resided immediately prior to your departure from the United States. This right extends to overseas citizens even though they may not have property or other ties in their last state or territory of residence and their intent to return to that state or territory may be uncertain. When completing the residence section of the FPCA, be sure to enter your entire mailing address of that last residence including, street or rural route and number. This information is necessary to place you in the proper voting district, ward, precinct or parish. Family members of citizens residing overseas, who are U.S. citizens and who have never resided in the U.S., usually claim one of their parent's legal state or territory of residence as their own.

Will I be taxed by my last state or territory of residence if I vote absentee?
Exercising your right to vote in elections for Federal offices only, does not affect the determination of residence or domicile for purposes of any tax imposed under Federal, state, or local law. Voting in an election for Federal office only, may not be used as the sole basis to determine residency for the purpose of imposing state and local taxes. If you claim a particular state or territory as your residence and have other ties with that state or territory in addition to voting, then you may be liable for state and local taxation, depending upon that particular state or territorial law. Consult the Guide for information on probable tax obligations.

Can I register or vote at the Embassy or Consulate?
At the present time, there are no provisions for regular voting or registration to be conducted at U.S. Embassies or Consulates. U.S. Embassy and Consular officials will assist U.S. citizens in processing FPCA forms, witnessing or notarizing FPCA forms (if required), and providing other absentee voting information. U.S. Embassy and Consulate locations serve also as a mailing point where FPCA forms and other election materials may be mailed back, postage paid, to your local voting jurisdiction in the U.S. where absentee registration and ballot requests are actually processed.