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?!
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:
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.
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Kit is the co-founder of Residential Cruising, and is best known as a coach at Live in Focused Energy. She and her husband, Randy, are actively working toward moving to a full-time Residential Cruising ship, where they intend to be “Digital Nomads” — continuing their work while aboard the ship.