This post is for US Citizens who will be in Panama (or anywhere overseas) on an election day.
Did you suddenly realize you didn’t ask for an absentee ballot?
You can vote in US Elections from Panama, or from anywhere overseas.
How To Request An Absentee Ballot
Votefromabroad.org makes requesting absentee ballots for US Citizens overseas easy. However, the deadline to request a ballot is different in every state. You can check your state’s deadlines on the Vote From Abroad website, here. The Federal Voting Assistance program also provides information about getting an absentee ballot in your state, here.
Many states will send you an absentee ballot via email.
When I request an absentee ballot for Washington State, I use votefromabroad.org. The ballot request form is officially called the Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request Federal Post Card Application (FPCA).
The form asks you specific questions about your long-term plans. For instance, you are given the option to say, “my return is uncertain” or “I intend to return” to the US.
If you indicate, “My return is uncertain,” you will receive a federal ballot (i.e., President and Congress). Also, more than half of the states (31) will also send you a state ballot (i.e., governor, state legislature, etc.) for which you are registered.
If you indicate “I intend to return”, even if you have no fixed return date or firm plans to do so you will receive your state ballot for state offices as well as federal elections ballot.
Then, once you are back living in the U.S., you will need to update your residence address with your Local Election Official, just like you do whenever you move. However, you’ll already be a registered voter, so it will be relatively easy to simply update your address. Most states provide an online process to update your address.
Need To Register To Vote?
You can still register to vote in a few states. But, keep in mind, most states require voters to register at least 45 days before an election.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program website (fvap.gov), allows you to discover your state’s register to vote deadlines. The site also provides links for you to discover whether you are already registered to vote or not.
Important: Simply filling out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) on votefromabroad.org, does not mean you are registered to vote.
You must submit your completed FPCA to your US local election office. The VotefromAbroad.org website will tell you how to do this. You must do this because only your local election office has the authority to approve your FPCA, register you to vote, and send out your ballot! Depending upon your state, you can email FPCA to your local office, fax it or mail it.
Still Not Received Your Absentee Ballot?
Have you already requested an absentee ballot, but have not received it? You can fill out a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). The FWAB is the US’s back up plan for overseas voters.
Visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website to fill out the FWAB.
How To Return Your Completed Ballot
There isn’t much more time to return your ballot. When you get your ballot, be sure to fill it out and return it right away. Did I mention the election is only 6 days away!
Thankfully, over half of the states also allow you to return your ballot electronically (email, fax, or online upload).
All states allow you to return your ballot by mail. If you choose to mail in your ballot–or if your state requires you to do so, you can do so through mail services such as FedEx or DHL or use a courier service. To help ensure your ballot is received by the deadline, follow these steps:
- Request that your state email/online or Fax you a blank ballot so you’ll get it as soon as it’s ready. Remember, this is your blank ballot, so there are no ballot secrecy concerns.
- Fill out and return your ballot as soon as you can
- If other voters are sending ballots to the same election office, you can send multiple sealed ballots in a single envelope s.
However you send in your ballot, remember that you (the voter) must be the one who places it in the mail or courier service or gives it to an authorized agent for the US Embassy/Consulate. In some states, it is unlawful for any other person to handle your voted ballot, even if it is sealed.
If meeting the deadline is a concern, you can send in a Backup Ballot–that is, the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (or FWAB). (See above)
Instructions and Deadlines
Your ballot will contain the instructions and deadlines specific to your voting state. Please be sure to read and follow the instructions completely!
If you have any questions, contact your local election office.
Confirm Your Vote Was Received
After you send in your voted ballot, be sure to verify that it was received and counted! Contact your local election office for confirmation. Many states also have websites to track your ballot.
For more information on voting overseas and sources for election information, please check out this post.