How We Voted While Living Abroad

The time is here. Election season. The most contentious time of year. And as Americans, we have the right to vote, even if we are currently living halfway around the world. While we cannot physically be at the polls, there are still options to allow us to vote while living abroad. It’s easier than you think.

When we first moved to France, we were not sure what the voting process was. We had plenty of time; the election was over eight months away. But we knew we needed to figure it out sooner rather than later so that our vote would count. We had a lot of questions.

Would our ballots be mailed to us? 

How long would it take to send them back? 

How much is postage? 

Where do you even buy postage? 

The good news is that thanks to the internet, we quickly learned how simple the process was.

You may have heard this year about mail-in voting, but have you heard about email voting? Because that’s exactly how we were able to vote this year.

your vote defines tomorrow. vote while living abroad

In South Carolina, we are part of a group called “UOCAVA” voters, which stands for the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. To become a UOCAVA voter, we can submit an FPCA or FWAB on the FVAP website and then vote using the EVAT. If you don’t know what that means, neither did I. The United States loves its acronyms.

In the Summer, Jordan navigated through the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website to apply to receive our absentee ballot. This application was through the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA), which explains two of the acronyms above! For a government website, the steps seemed pretty straight forward.

register to vote with FPCA while living aborad

The first thing we had to do to fill out the application was to select our state and county jurisdiction.

select your voting residence

Then, we had to choose the type of voting classification. For us, we selected “U.S. citizen living outside the country, and I intend to return.”

absentee ballot classification

Next, we had to fill out personal information about ourselves, including our date of birth, social security number, and political party. We also had to fill out our voting residence. The state defaulted to South Carolina, which we had selected at the beginning. Choosing our voting residence was an essential step so that we could receive the correct ballot. We still own a home and used this address for our voting residence.

voting residence
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I was thankful we had a U.S. address still, as it seemed like it made the process easier. But what would we have done if we had sold our home instead of renting it out while we are on our expat journey? Good question. The FVAP had all the resources we needed to figure out what our voting residence was. 

Our voter residence is the address in which we last lived immediately before moving out of the United States, even if we sold our home. We would still be able to use this address for three reasons: 

  1. We did not own property or have ties to South Carolina
  2. Our intent to return to South Carolina was uncertain
  3. Our address was no longer a recognized residential address 

The U.S. would automatically disqualify our absentee ballot application if we were to use our France address in this section. Good to know!

After completing this section, we then had to enter the mailing address where we currently live in France. The website even included a link to a helpful USPS page with instructions on how to send mail internationally. I still don’t know how to buy stamps, though.

We then had to select how we wanted to receive our ballot. There were three options to choose from: email/online, mail, or fax. Honestly, who owns a fax machine? When I have to send faxes, I use an app on my phone called GeniusFax. But to receive a fax? Come on; it’s 2020!

The mail system in France is slow, and they aren’t too eager to deliver packages or mail to our apartment. We did not think this was a reliable option and selected to receive our ballot by email/online. The form then asked for our email address to send it to. Easy enough.

method to receive ballot

Each state required a few pieces of additional information before we could complete the application. In South Carolina, we had to select what type of elections we wanted to receive ballots for. We also had to include our race. There was not a drop-down selection for race, so I guess we could have entered anything we wanted. 

After filling everything out online, you would think we could submit it online, too, right?

Wrong.

This online application created a straightforward package that we needed to print, sign, and mail. It also included a customized envelope template that said “official absentee balloting material” with our local election office address pre-populated. As I mentioned before, we do not know how to buy stamps here. But, if we could mail them from the U.S., postage was free. So after we signed the packages, we emailed them to Jordan’s dad and asked him to print them and mail them for us. Thanks, Bill! 

Viola! Our process of requesting our absentee ballot to vote while living abroad was complete. And we completed it well before the required registration deadline of October 4, 2020.

federal election deadline

Fast-forward to September, and we each received an email with the subject, “November 03, 2020, Statewide General Election”. There were two documents attached to the email. The first file included instructions on how to complete the ballot along with a cover sheet. Because of course, we could fax our ballot back if we wanted to. The second attachment was our actual ballot. 

The process is simple: we fill out the ballot, sign it, and email it (or fax, if you are feeling old-fashioned) back to the same email address that sent it. It almost seems too easy.

refuse to be silenced and vote while living abroad

Jordan and I printed our ballots and completed them at the same time. I kept telling him we would forget to do it because that would be typical of us. I sent my ballot back first, and Jordan sent his back a few days later. Jordan immediately received an email confirmation that the office had received his vote. I had not received any email confirmation! I started to worry that I had done something wrong on my ballot and emailed back. The office immediately responded and confirmed they received my vote. Phew!

We may not have received an “I voted” sticker, but we did it! We successfully submitted our ballots to vote for the election while living abroad.

One thing that has been positive about the election while living abroad is filtering out all the noise. You know, all the campaign ads on T.V. and the daily mailers sent to your house. Or all of the campaign billboards and signs in everyone’s yard. One of my friends said he received seven campaign mailers in one day. He said he usually only receives three a day, and seven was a new record. That’s crazy! 

We watched the Clemson game on Saturday and used our U.S. TV account to watch it. There were four campaign ads in a row during a commercial break. Four! Each one was worse than the last. I was curious to see if these ads were effective at positively influencing people. I put up an Instagram poll to see if anyone was influenced (positively) by these ads. 100% of respondents said no. To me, I see how much money is spent wasted on campaign ads. Wouldn’t this time, energy, and money be spent spreading positivity in the world? Maybe I am in the minority here.

your vote. your voice. vote while living abroad

You have two days left! Go out and vote (even if you aren’t living abroad)!

If you’ve voted, let me know in the comments below what method you chose for the 2020 election.

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