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Americans living overseas: Make sure your vote is counted this November

Yes. Americans living abroad can vote for the President of the United States of America.

Yes. Americans living abroad can, and did, vote in the presidential primaries.

Yes. Americans living abroad can vote for federal offices.

Yes. Depending on which state you are registered in, Americans living abroad can participate in state and local elections.

Yes. If you are an American living abroad who has never even lived in America, but one or more of your parents is a registered US voter, then in 24 states and the District of Columbia you are eligible to vote.

Yes. The answer is YES you can vote.

As an American living in Hong Kong, a region with a large number of American immigrants, I am continually shocked at the number of people who don’t know that they can participate in the 2016 US election.

“Wait, I could have voted in the primary?”

“Are you sure I can vote? I’ve lived here for so long.”

“Does my vote really matter?” (Whether you’re in Bangkok or Boston the answer is YES.)

With the formation of such organizations as Democrats Abroad, Republicans Overseas, and the Overseas Vote Foundation, Americans living abroad have more resources than ever when it comes to voting and candidate information. Not only is voting possible, but with over 8 million registered American voters living outside the US, the voice of the often overlooked overseas vote matters — big time.

Living abroad, there is a temptation to succumb to feeling disconnected and helpless; to feeling so far away from the conventions, rallies, and like-minded citizens that the potential consequences of the US election don’t feel quite real to you. Especially if you’ve been living abroad for many years, it may be difficult to feel passionate or grounded in the immediacy of American politics.

But as the most powerful country in the world, remember that whatever happens in this presidential election will impact you no matter where you live. The outcome of this election will not only effect how America treats its citizens and residents, but how America treats the world. If you have any care or regard for the country you call home right now, you will do your duty as an American citizen and exercise your privilege to vote for leaders that can see how 50 states fit into a bigger picture.

But how?

Luckily voting abroad has come a long way. Almost everything can be done online from registering and requesting an absentee ballot, to getting “matched” with a candidate that aligns with your values. Here are some resources that can help to make your voting experience simpler and smarter.

Registering and Requesting an Overseas Absentee Ballot

Are you a register voter in the US? Do you need to register? Are you unsure if you’re registered or not?

If you’re not sure if you’re registered to vote, you can visit vote.org to check your registration. Be sure you have the address of your former residence in the last state you believe you were registered to vote in.

If it turns out you are not registered to vote, you can register at non-partisan sites like Overseas Vote Foundation. While registering, you can request an overseas absentee ballot at the same time.

Registered or not, you must fill out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) form for each year that you’d like to vote absentee from overseas. It’s recommended by the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), an organization that offers non-partisan assistance to overseas voters, that American voters fill out this form every January. But if you have not filled it out yet, it’s not too late. There is still time to register for the General Election, request a ballot, and return it to your state.

IMPORTANT: be sure to check the FVAP’s Voting Assistance Guide to see how your state will allow your absentee ballot to be returned. Some will accept the ballots by email, but others will only receive them by mail and/or fax.

You can go directly to the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website to register, request a ballot, and check on your state’s requirements and deadlines. Or visit these other websites, all of which will help you through the process.

Vote From Abroad
A straightforward, succinct site that gets straight to the point: vote. A solid, non-partisan site to visit if you already have a strong grasp of registering/voting and don’t want to be inundated with options and information. That being said, their “Voter Help Desk” and FAQ section offer clear, effective guidance.

U.S. Vote Foundation
A robust, non-partisan site that makes registering/voting easy for Americans both domestic and abroad. Aside from voting forms and guidance, the site also offers blogs, press, and even a pretty nifty “My Voter Account” mobile app through which you can organize information, news, forms, and deadlines that are specifically tailored to the user. The site has a strong partnership with FactCheck.org which streams live to the app. For the more “plugged in” voter, this may be a good site to check out.

Overseas Vote Foundation
As mentioned above, this foundation is a non-partisan site that caters to Americans living abroad. An “initiative of the U.S. Vote Foundation”, this site may be the “Goldilocks” website between U.S. Vote Foundation and Vote From Abroad — it presents clear information and resources to voters, while also offering engagement without being overwhelming. You can just get down to registering and/or voting, or personalize your account to receive political news (provided by FactCheck.org), track deadlines, or stay up-to-date on your congressional officials.

“I’m still a little confused about eligibility, registration, and voting. Is there a ‘quick guide’ I can reference?”

Yes! U.S. Passports & International Travel offers this very useful guide with the basics of everything you need to know condensed into one page. Go to Absentee Voting Information for U.S. Citizens Abroad. It’s here that you’ll also find information on the “Emergency Write-In Ballot” in case your absentee ballot doesn’t reach you in time.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program also offers this detailed page on FAQs on absentee voting.

Choosing a Candidate

Obviously part of being an American voter is staying abreast of what’s happening in the US through the news and media. However, sometimes it’s hard to separate what is opinion from what is fact in an election. For that reason it’s helpful to have sites that give you the bare facts on where candidates stand.

ISideWith.com breaks down issues like equal pay, immigration, and gun control into poll results and the candidates’ stances. It’s far from comprehensive, but serves as a great jumping-off point to learn more about an issue or candidate. You can even take a quiz to see “which 2016 Presidential candidate you side with” or estimate how a candidate’s tax plan “will effect your income and savings” with the “Tax Plan Calculator”.

And as a side note, I appreciate that the site can be translated into 11 other languages other than English.

Of course, there’s Politifact.com, the Pulitzer Prize winning site that “is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics”. Not only can you see a “scorecard” of truths and lies for each presidential candidate, but also pretty much anybody else involved in US politics on the state or federal level.

For Democrat or Republican voters, there’s Democrats Abroad and Republicans Overseas.

Democrats Abroad is “the official Democratic Party arm for the millions of Americans living outside the United States”. After the Global Primary that Democrats Abroad held in March, 21 delegates were selected “to represent Democrats Abroad at the Democratic National Convention”. As an organization, Democrats Abroad not only provides information and support for the millions of Democrats living outside the US, but they also host events and provide volunteer opportunities.

Though Republicans do not have an official “arm” abroad, Republicans Overseas is a steadily growing organization committed to “giving a voice to the 8.7 million overseas Americans concerns regarding FATCA, FAST Passport Act, Trade and National Security”. Republicans Overseas could not offer Republican voters an option to vote in the Global Primary (this time), but the organization provides support and community to Republicans in more than 50 countries.

Both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Overseas have representatives in many cities around the world that American voters can reach out to on an individual basis. It’s through these representatives as well as gatherings with like-minded individuals that Americans abroad can find a sense of community and camaraderie. Though it may seem secondary to “the issues”, not feeling so isolated from your home country and fellow Americans can make a huge difference in voter turnout.

Yes. As an American living abroad, you do have a voice regarding America’s future. You just have to speak up.

Photo: Gregor Dodson/Creative Commons


Louise Hung

A Chinese-American writer living in New York, Louise is a contributor and researcher for the Order of the Good Death and Ask a Mortician. You can find her on Twitter @LouiseHung1.