Can Residential Cruisers Vote?

As I set out to my new cruising life I thought that I might miss out on voting. That’s especially a big deal for me with national elections like the one coming up. Happily I found the bottom line is, voting from abroad is probably easier than you think.

Note: This is necessarily slanted to U.S. citizens. Citizens of other countries should consult with relevant organizations at home.

As a U.S. citizen, you have a hard-won right to vote, and that applies no matter how long you have lived outside the U.S., and whether or not you plan to return someday — as long as you maintain your American citizenship. And it applies whether or not you have a home in the U.S.

The Residential Cruising Angle

Most Americans working and living abroad probably have a fairly stable mailing address, making absentee voting much easier. But when you live on a cruise ship that stays in a specific port for only a few days, that gets more problematic. How do you get your ballot?!

Yes, you can vote! (Photo: Element5 Digital via Unsplash)

First, mail delivery depends on your ship. Villa Via Residences, for instance, says it will maintain a U.S. address at their office in Florida, and periodically send mail addressed to passengers to where they know the ship will be. This could well include absentee ballots.

The question is, will this process be fast enough to get your ballot back by the deadline? That remains to be seen. (Of course, you almost certainly should mail your completed ballot in directly, not via the ship’s forwarding service, which could well add extra time. It wouldn’t be postmarked until it was deposited in the U.S. mail after it arrives back in the U.S.)

You might be able to vote in some states and localities if you have a direct association to a specific place. Obviously, if you maintain a valid home address in the U.S., that “should” qualify you for at least state-level elections, if not local elections, in addition to federal elections.

Do consider whether voting in state elections makes you a legal “resident” in that state, perhaps subjecting you to state income taxes. Certainly you should discuss state taxes with your U.S.-based tax professional whether or not you intend to vote.

FPCA from ACA

First, unless your state has online options, start with a Federal Post Card Application for voter registration, the FPCA. One way to get one is to visit VoteFromAbroad.org, run by American Citizens Abroad (ACA), “a non-profit, non-partisan, advocacy organization that represents the legislative and regulatory concerns of US citizens living and working overseas to the US Government.” But it is likely you can file it electronically in the state where you can vote. Keep reading.

All states are required by federal law to accept the FPCA. Note that the FPCA asks whether you “intend to return” to the U.S. This is mainly to qualify you for voting in local/state elections, not to hold you to any certain date or location that you might move “back” to.

ACA estimates that as of 2022, there are 5.2 million U.S. citizens living and working abroad. Here is a direct link to their main voter information page. If you are not registered currently, get on it! Some states require that you be registered at least a month before election day.

Online Voting Assistance

The U.S. Department of State notes that “voting is now easier than ever before” because U.S. citizens “can receive an absentee ballot by email, fax, or internet download, depending on the state they are eligible to vote in.” (Emphasis added)

The State Dept. does also refer to the FPCA as described above, which is required to be submitted every year that you are abroad. It is sent directly to the local election officials where you are eligible to vote, who will “1) Confirm your eligibility to vote and put your name on a list to receive absentee ballots for any elections held that calendar year,” and “2) Send you a blank absentee ballot electronically or by mail.”

What if you are registered, but don’t get your ballot in time? You should then “use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote.” That link goes to the Federal Voting Assistance Program site. There you can get state- or territory-specific information about what you need to do, and what specific options are available to you. Again, start early so you know what you need to do.

For instance, since we are now Nevada residents, we can use the state’s “online tool” to submit our FPCAs, and (according to our local election officials) even submit our ballots online:

The header of the Nevada-specific voter information page at the FVAP site. (Click to see larger.)

 

See what I mean by “voting from abroad is probably easier than you think”? Of course, your state or territory may be different, so be sure to start going through the links here well before the next election.

8 thoughts on “Can Residential Cruisers Vote?”

  1. Not really a surprise to me, with a career in the Navy and several overseas residences behind me. In some locales, you can even receive and submit absentee ballots electronically; of course, it might depend on where you are registered to vote.

    In my experience, generally the postal mailed absentee ballots do arrive in time to be voted and sent back by the deadline. Note that in many precincts overseas ballots must the POSTMARKED by one deadline and received by a later one to be counted. So even if postal mailed from overseas it’s fine if it posted on time even if it arrives at the elections office after the voting date.

    Right, but remember you had U.S. military-based mail service, which I would think would be more secure, reliable, and speedy than the postal services in random small countries. But what Kit was really suggesting is to perhaps not rely on mail services provided by our Residential Cruising companies, which would ship the mail back to the U.S. to be inserted into the mailstream there — and would they do that before the postmark deadline? The idea is to ask questions and plan ahead, rather than just assume they can wait until the last minute as they might be able to do as U.S. residents. -rc

    Reply
    • I’m also thinking about the challenge of getting the paper ballot in time to vote and *then* return it with the intention of it getting counted in the election. Our location is a moving target and time-sensitive “mail” is best received electronically.

      Reply
  2. I think you have hit this question on the head, squarely. My wife and I retired from work in California in 2006, and promptly relocated to New Zealand. The ACA, as you mentioned is a good resource. You can also get information from whichever US political party you are a member of.

    We always made sure that Santa Clara County in California was aware of our overseas status, and IIRC we could always download ballots online and return them by email.

    Pick a place in the US that you have a relationship with and maintain that relationship. That is the best advice I think you can give.

    I didn’t know you were in NZ! Cool: maybe we can connect when we get there.

    One minor issue for us: we refuse to be Democrats -or- Republicans, or really any other party since none quite feels right to us, so as “unaffiliated” or “independent” we have no party offices to get info from. That’s part of the reason Kit researched this. 🙂 -rc

    Reply
    • You understand! 🙂

      It turns out not all states or countries offer electronic voting. So, everyone needs to do their own research and figure out their best options.

      This article is the wake-up call.

      Reply
  3. My wife, an American, has lived in Germany with me for 24 years now and elections have never been an issue. She is on the records of the Florida voting authority and gets everything sent to her in time. In the old time they wanted the filled in paper ballot back, later a fax would do and now they are talking about returning it electronically. Since you will have an Email-ID, voting should be easy, as long as your are registered in a US state.

    Reply
    • Being registered to vote is indeed an important part of the equation. 🙂

      One big difference between your wife’s situation and ours is that you live in a land-bound, stationery location and mail comes and goes readily from it. We’ll be living in a sea-bound, moving location and while mail will come and go from it, those movements will be sporadic and slow. I’m glad we’ll be able to vote electronically.

      Reply
  4. Interesting and informative. Hopefully expat voting will be easy for you two when the time comes. I’ve sometimes wondered how it works for non-military folks. My guess is filing income taxes will be easier. :-/

    “I have people for that.” -rc

    Reply
    • I think voting will be easy for us, Matt. I’m relieved to learn that.

      And as Randy said, taxes should be easy to file after our people take care of the details. 🙂

      Reply

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