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Voting from Abroad

votingFor overseas Americans, the constitutional right to vote for their federal representatives has often been thwarted by inconsistent state regulations governing voter registration, by late arrival of ballot applications and the ballots themselves, and by lack of clear and timely information on how to vote. AARO has been working for more than three decades to make the system easier and more efficient, and to ensure that overseas voters are aware of their rights.

Procedures should be simplified for absentee registration and voting for US citizens abroad. The implementation of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act should make broader use of technology and in every case provide equal benefit to both U.S. civilians and military personnel overseas, who are covered together under the Act. Timely ballot delivery and transparent vote counting procedures for these voters should be given priority.

At present, 23 states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow Americans reared abroad to exercise their right to vote in federal elections by registering to vote using the legal voting residence of their U.S. citizen parent(s). This right should be granted by all states.

AARO actively cooperates with federal and state authorities in charge of voting, explaining the problems faced by U.S. citizens abroad and encouraging efforts to streamline the system. It is currently working to ensure effective registration and absentee voting through a single state office in each state, as established in the 2002 Voting Reform bill, and to collect and disseminate information on absentee ballots. AARO also organizes and participates in voter registration events overseas, distributing information to its members and the American community abroad through personal contact and through its newsletters and e-mail bulletins.

For a more detailed analysis of the issue, please consult AARO Position Paper on Voting.

Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE)

On October 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) which will bring major improvements to the process for voting from abroad. The Act includes the following significant changes:

  • it allows military and overseas voters to request and receive election materials electronically such as registration forms, blank ballots and election information; these materials can be downloaded and printed locally which should reduce the time previously spent via use of the postal service;
  • it guarantees that military and overseas ballots will be counted if sent by election day;
  • it requires states to send out ballots a minimum of forty-five days in advance of the election;
  • it prohibits states from rejecting a marked absentee ballot solely on the bases of a missing notary signature, paper size, and other restrictions.

Congress is also considering other legislation that would simplify and modernize the entire voter registration process and would track ballots through the process so voters could be certain that their ballots were received and counted. These proposals are under consideration by the various committees of jurisdiction of the United States Congress. Another important development is the forthcoming issuance in 2010 by the Uniform Law Commission of draft legislation to standardize many of the voting procedures across the fifty states and seven territories of the United States.

Modernizing the overseas voting process is a continuing process but considerable progress has been made in the past year thanks, in large part, to the concerted efforts of organizations like AARO, FAWCO, ACA and Overseas Vote Foundation and to the large and influential military-related organizations representing active duty personnel, veterans and military families. Special thanks are due to the PEW Charitable Trust which has provided the leadership and sponsorship to bring these organizations together in a way that makes their voices even more powerful.

There’s no time like the present to REGISTER TO VOTE!

Once again this year, thanks to Overseas Vote Foundation, military and overseas voters can register to vote and request their ballots using the latest secure and user-friendly technology and benefiting from access to OVF’s continuously updated state-specific voter information.  OVF has, since 2007, hosted the only non-partisan, non-governmental voter registration website and in 2014, it’s better than ever.

Voters in the equivalent of the 26th state (6.32 million overseas Americans, according to the State Department) can go straight to to:

  1. register to vote and request an absentee ballot
  2. request an emergency Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot if their own ballot arrives late
  3. get state-specific information about eligibility and deadlines
  4. find full contact details for their own election official

Read more: There’s no time like the present to REGISTER TO VOTE!


Study shows improvements in the overseas voting process

According to the 2012 post-election survey conducted by the Overseas Vote Foundation (OVF), the overseas voting process was clearly improved in the first full federal election since passage of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act of 2009.

An article by Brian Knowlton in the New York Times showed that while a little over 20% of UOCAVA* voters were still unable to vote due to ballots that were late or not received, increased use of technology by both voters and elections officials did make the difference for many voters.  More than half, for example, received their blank ballot electronically.  Ironically, it was technicological glitches that thwarted some voters but election officials, vendors and those who provide voters with voting materials are working to fix those before the next test in 2014…

Click here to see the full NYT article by Brian Knowlton.

* UOCAVA: Uniformed and Overseas Civilians Absentee Voting Act


Bill Calls for Bipartisan Commission on Issues Concerning Overseas Americans

On August 1, HR 6263 was introduced in the House of Representatives to create a bipartisan federal commission to study the impact of government policies on Americans living and working abroad and to make recommendations to Congress to improve drafting and implementation of policies concerning the overseas population.

Americans Abroad Caucus Chair Carolyn Maloney of New York and Representatives Mike Honda of California and Charles Rangel of New York have introduced the bill because, according to Congresswoman Maloney, the concerns of overseas Americans "about how their government interacts with them deserve to be heard – and paid attention to – here in Washington."

AARO salutes this unprecedented effort to examine the impact of U.S. legislation on the overseas community and seek ways to "ensure awareness, coordination, and integration of the activities of the federal government relating to Americans abroad."

Click here for the press release and here for the text of the new bill. Because this has never been done before, HR 6263 will need a lot of help and widespread bipartisan support. Write to your Congressperson (find your Representative at and urge him/her to support, and even co-sponsor HR 6263!


AARO contributes to FPCA revisions

The Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) is the document with which military and overseas voters register to vote and request their ballots.

A new version of this form was introduced for the 2012 election which raised concerns with many voters. In response to requests from state and local election officials, the new form explicitly asked voters to state whether they “intend to return” to the states or not. Many were unsure of their intent and even more unsure of the implications of their affirmation. In addition, for U.S. citizens born abroad, the notion of “return” did not apply.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program, responsible for military and overseas voting, requested feedback on the newFPCA format and wording and AARO submitted comments (icon view comments). 

In a major victory for overseas voter rights, the Pentagon later reinstated website availability of the federal post card application introduced in 2005, thus avoiding a number of problems related to the language on the form introduced in 2011.

Following the 2012 election, AARO and its partner organizations were contacted by the FVAP to comment on yet another revision of the FPCA.  In addition to other improvements, the version to be used for the 2014 election replaces the concept of "no intent to return" by the notion of "uncertainty", with which many overseas voters should be much more comfortable.

(updated December 2013)


FYI - Voting News

  • States Move to Allow Overseas and Military Voters to Cast Ballots by Internet New York Times, by Ian Urbina WASHINGTON — Nearly three million overseas and military voters from at least 33 states will be permitted to cast ballots over the Internet in November using e-mail or fax,...
  • Internet Voting, Still in Beta NY Times Opinion - January 28, 2010 Americans abroad should have a fair opportunity to vote, but allowing online voting in its current state could open elections up to vote theft and other mischief. Read...
  • Congress Approves Bill Helping Overseas Voters New York Times, by Ian Urbina, October 22, 2009, WASHINGTON — For decades, Election Day has been just out of reach for many American troops and civilians abroad. After struggling to get the paperwork...
  • Judge: Virginia Violated Rights of Voters Overseas NewsChannel 8, October 16, 2009 – A federal court just ruled that in 2008, the state of Virginia violated the voting rights of overseas and military voters. Read more:
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