FAQ: All About Your Ballot in 2020

Updated Monday September 7, 2020

 

Normally, it’s not that complicated to vote from abroad, but 2020 is no normal year.  The COVID-19 crisis has caused severe distress to postal systems around the world, including the United States, resulting in significant delays to delivery of mail. 

It is imperative that voters in states that require voted ballot return by postal mail take early action to request their absentee ballots, and then vote and return them as soon as possible.  

If you vote in a state that accepts voted ballots by email or fax, hurray! But do make sure you’ve requested your ballot this year - keep reading for more information. 

We are going to walk you through the whole voting process below.  Please pay extra attention to the questions about the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB), especially if your state requires postal return of the voted ballot.

IF YOU NEED HELP, PLEASE CONTACT THE HELP DESK.  We are here for you!

Contents:

 

QUESTIONS ABOUT REGISTERING TO VOTE AND REQUESTING AN ABSENTEE BALLOT


How do I register to vote and request a ballot?

Answer: You can register to vote and request your ballot by using our voter tool at www.votefromabroad.org. Connect to the website and click "Start." When asked on page 2 how you would like to receive your ballot, be sure to choose "Email or online." By completing this process, you are completing the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). Be sure to follow the instructions to sign and submit to your Local Election Official in the U.S. Most states allow you to submit the form by email or fax, too.


I know that I am already registered to vote, so why do I have to do this every year?

Answer: You may be  registered to vote in your state, but many states still make you request your overseas absentee ballot in every calendar year you’d like to vote.


I have not yet registered to vote.  What should I do?

Answer:  You should complete and return the FPCA form now. All states (except AL) will accept ballot requests by email or fax.

Note, however, that the following states require that you follow up by submitting your FPCA form by postal mail if you are registering to vote for the first time: FL, ID, MD, OR, SD, WI, WY

Connecticut and New York allow email or fax submission for FPCAs, but voters must also send in the original by postal mail. If you are a CT or NY voter and are reading this FAQ after September 19, we recommend that you also immediately send in a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) in a separate envelope from your FPCA form to ensure your vote arrives in time to be counted. (Your FPCA and FWAB envelopes can be combined in one outer envelope for submission to your Local Election Official.)

NY update (Aug. 28): from Thomas E. Connolly, Director of Election Operations, New York State Board of Elections: "Because of recent legislation and executive orders from the Governor, the signed application with the wet signature would not be needed to count your ballot for this year alone." NYC voters will still have to send in the original form by postal mail, but the Local Election Official should begin processing the form after receiving the email copy.


I can't remember if I requested that the ballot be sent to me by email.  What do I do?

Answer:  Send in a revised ballot request, using the FPCA form on www.votefromabroad.org.  Make sure to select "Email or online" ballot receipt on the second page. Your Local Election Official will update your information based on the new FPCA. If you’re at all uncertain if you’ve requested this year (during the 2020 calendar year), send in your absentee ballot request form NOW.


How can I verify that I am indeed registered to vote and will receive and absentee ballot? I believe I am all set, but I want to know for sure. What do I do?

Answer: Shortly after you send in your FPCA, we strongly recommend that you verify your voter registration by contacting your Local Election Official. At votefromabroad.org/states, just select your state and scroll down to the “Am I Registered” link to access your state’s online voter rolls. For the most accurate information, email or call your Local Election Official. The contact information is available on the same page, under “Find Your Election Office.”


QUESTIONS ABOUT RECEIVING AND RETURNING YOUR BALLOT 


When will I receive my ballot?

Answer: If you requested that your ballot be sent to you via email, then you should receive it on or before September 19.  If you don’t see an email from your Local Election Official in your inbox, check your junk/spam or promotions folder.


When and how should I return my ballot?

Answer: You should vote and return your ballot as soon as possible, but make sure to read and follow all instructions carefully. Remember to sign the ballot oath. You can aim to have your ballot voted and ready to return to your Local Election Official on Monday, September 21.

All states will allow you to return your voted ballot by postal mail. Some states also allow email and/or fax. We highlight what we believe is the fastest and easiest method for each state below, but go to votefromabroad.org/states for more details.

Note: Some states have strict signature matching requirements. Try to sign your ballot oath with the same signature that you use for other official documents.


Can I return my ballot by email?

Answer: If you are from one of the following 26 states/jurisdictions, you can return your voted ballot by EMAIL or ONLINE UPLOAD:

AL, AZ, CO, DC, DE, HI, IA, IN, KS, MA, ME, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE*, NM, NV, OR, RI, SC, UT, WA, WV, WY* 

*Nebraska voters must get their Local Election Official's approval to return a voted ballot electronically.

*Wyoming is currently setting up its email return system, so please contact your Local Election Official for details.


Can I return my ballot by FAX?

Answer: If you are from one of the following 5 states, you can return your voted ballot by FAX:

AK, CA, FL, LA*, OK

*Louisiana voters must get their Local Election Official's approval to return a voted ballot electronically.

Please note, you can use the email-to-fax service that is offered free of charge to overseas U.S. citizens by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, or you can search for "fax app for android/iphone" to find a free app.

IMPORTANT: be sure to format your .pdf as "U.S. Letter" sized paper.  Simply email your FPCA or ballot with the required cover sheet to fax@fvap.gov and it will be faxed to your Local Election Officials. (If your state does not include a fax cover sheet with your ballot, you can use this one.)


I don't see my state listed above for email or FAX return.  What do I do?

Answer: 20 states still require POSTAL BALLOT RETURN.  If you live in one of these states then you MUST return your voted ballot by postal mail:

AR, CT, GA, ID, IL, KY, MD, MI, MN, NH, NJ*, NY, OH, PA, SD, TN, TX, VA, VT*, WI

Given that the postal systems around the world are severely affected by the COVID-19 crisis, we URGE YOU TO VOTE AND RETURN YOUR BALLOT IMMEDIATELY. You can aim to get your ballot ready to go by Monday, SEPTEMBER 21.

Note: Some military voters who vote in TX may be able to return voted ballots by fax. Go to https://www.votefromabroad.org/states/ to see if you qualify.

*NJ voters: New Jersey allows voted ballot return by email. The voter must then also return the original by mail.

*VT voters: If you are a VT voter who lives in a country with no mail service to the US, you may return your ballot by email to your local election office. Please get in touch with your election office for more information.


I understand postal mail will take an extra long time this year, so can I use a service, such as UPS or FedEx?

Answer: It should be okay, but check with your Local Election Official to be sure because your ballot envelope will not have a postmark. If you are concerned about having your ballot arrive in a timely fashion, the extra price may be worth it.

Your ballot must be enclosed in a ballot envelope. The instructions that come with your ballot will explain how to prepare your ballot envelope. Complete your ballot, put it in the ballot envelope, seal it, make sure to sign the ballot oath, and then put it in the courier service envelope.

Update (Aug. 30): Democrats Abroad has contacted all of these states and they have confirmed that they will accept voted ballot return by a courier service. No date stamp is necessary as long as the voted ballot arrives by close of polls on Election Day.


What about the diplomatic bag at the Embassy?

Answer:  This is an option, especially if you need to return your ballot by mail, and it’s a free service for U.S. citizens. Please be aware that it may come with significant delays and may not be available in your area. Consular services in many countries are not operating normally or are understaffed, and therefore the diplomatic bag is not a guarantee. Check with your Embassy/Consulate to find out if they are currently accepting election mail.

Moreover, the diplomatic pouch may not leave every day or even every week, depending on the country. When it does depart, the mail is delivered to the USPS sorting center at Dulles, where it enters into the regular US mail, which is itself experiencing delays. While this approach may avoid the delays of the postal service of the country in which you reside, you should note that there will likely still be delays. The best way to account for delays this year is to VOTE AND RETURN YOUR BALLOT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.


QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FEDERAL WRITE-IN ABSENTEE BALLOT (FWAB)


What is a FWAB?  

Answer The FWAB is the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. It is the back-up ballot for overseas voters who are afraid that their voted ballots will not be received on time. 

Because of the postal mail crisis this year, we are recommending urgent, proactive use of the FWAB.


When should I use a FWAB?

Answer: We recommend using it NOW due to the crisis in the postal system. Because postal systems around the world, including the U.S., are experiencing extensive delays, this year it is urgent, particularly if you vote in one of the states that requires postal mail return of voted ballots:

AR, CT, GA, ID, IL, KY, MD, MI, MN, NH, NY, OH, PA, SD, TN, TX, VA, VT*, WI

*VT voters - If you are a VT voter who lives in a country with no mail service to the US, you may return your ballot by email to your local election office. Please get in touch with your election office for more information.


How does the FWAB work?

Answer:  Consider a FWAB your back-up ballot or insurance policy. You can mail it in TODAY if you are sure that you are registered to vote. Later, when you get your Official Ballot, you should complete and mail that one, too. If your Local Election Official subsequently receives your Official Ballot, they will discard the FWAB and count only the Official Ballot. If your Official Ballot never arrives because of postal delays, at least your FWAB is already there, and it will be counted.


When should I mail it?

Answer:  Vote and return the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) TODAY.  DO NOT WAIT. We recommend that you send it in now.


Okay, great! How do I use an FWAB to vote?

AnswerTo download your FWAB and vote it, go to this website and follow the instructions (carefully).  You can complete the form and ballot online, print it, sign it, and return it to your election official. See the section above about options for returning your voted FWAB. If you use the regular mail system in your country to send your voted FWAB, check to make sure "USA" is included in the address for your Local Election Official.


The FWAB website is saying something about a Certified Ballot.  Do I need to wait for this?  What's this all about?

Answer:  No, you do not need to wait. To find out who is on your ballot, especially down ballot, go to the Ballotpedia Ballot Look-up.


Couldn't I just vote Democrat straight ticket?  Is there an easy way to do this?

Answer:  Yes! On the FWAB, on the "Vote Candidates" page, there is a column for "Political Party." You can simply type or write "Democrat" in the allotted space for every race you want to vote in (almost all voters will have President/Vice President and Representative).


So I need to worry about the FWAB now, if and only if, I have to return my ballot by postal mail, right?  If I can return it by email or fax, I'm good, right?

Answer:  You’re all set! For now, but keep in mind that you can and should vote a FWAB later if your Official Ballot is delayed. If you know you have friends who vote in one of the voted ballot return by mail states, remind them to vote a FWAB now. 


OTHER QUESTIONS


I need extra help with registering to vote, requesting my ballot, or using the FWAB. What can I do?

Answer: We have multiple resources to help you. First, you can check the help pages at www.votefromabroad.org. You can also write to the help desk.  And every Sunday, we have a 24-hour live help on Zoom (scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the date to get the meeting link and password).


I'm getting contrary or confusing information from my Local Election Official, or they're telling me that I can't do something that I know is allowed.  Whom do I turn to for clarification and help?

Answer: Our Voter Protection Team can help you! Contact them directly.


My children are U.S. citizens and eligible to vote, but they have never lived in the United States. Can they vote? What should we do?

Answer: This is tricky, because it will depend on the state in which you are registered to vote. Generally, your children can go to www.votefromabroad.org to submit the FPCA to register to vote. For their "voting address," they should use the voting address of a U.S. citizen parent.  Please note that if your voting address is in IL or OR, the process may be more complicated. We are glad to help you out the best we can, so contact us and describe your situation.


I am out of compliance with the IRS, so I am worried that if I vote the tax man might come after me…

Answer:  Stop worrying and vote!  There is no connection, zero, between voting and taxes. The fact that you voted will not in any way be communicated to the IRS. But, consult a tax expert if you are concerned there may be tax liability consequences at the state or local level.