How to Absentee Vote from Overseas


This year, I was one of those lucky voters who got to slog through the unwieldy process of absentee voting. In fact, I’ve never voted in person — I was out of state for college in 2008, and cast my 2012 ballot from abroad. I was excited to vote this year, especially because I’m from the great swing state of Virginia, which means that my vote might actually even matter! Woo-hoo! And apparently, if you’re voting from abroad, “Voting in 2012 is easier than ever before!”

Of course, the recent legislation concerning absentee voting from outside the U.S. (the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, or MOVE Act) may or may not actually make your life easier. Since the November 2010 elections, states have been required to make registration forms, absentee ballot forms, and blank ballots available via either fax or email. Unless your state government is still living in the 1990s, and only provides these forms via fax, this is awesome! Unfortunately, states now determine individually how often to require voter registration. The State Department recommends that, to be on the safe side, voters should re-register every year via the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA).

As anyone who has voted via absentee ballot probably knows, the requirements differ a great deal depending on your state.

One of the great things about Virginia is that voters can actually register to vote and cast their ballot simultaneously with the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which is generally used as an emergency backup ballot. (Only a few states allow this; most require that voters be previously registered in order to use the form). Procrastinators and last-minute voters of Virginia, rejoice! The October 15registration deadline still applies though, so hopefully if you’re a VA voter reading this, you’re already registered. (If you’re not sure about your registration status, you can also check online.) 

The only real downside for Virginia voters is the witness signature requirement on the Voter Declaration form. Without this signature, which can be provided by anyone over age 18, the ballot is considered invalid. Presumably this includes non-Americans, which is helpful for people (like me) who live in the boonies and don’t see other Americans every day. 

Still, at this point in the process, I ran into an unexpected snag: Japanese people don’t generally sign forms with a written signature. Instead, they use an officially registered name stamp called a hanko, which I suspected would not be accepted by the Virginia government as a legal signature. After finding a fellow expat to sign for me, the absentee voting process went fairly smoothly.

While I’m envious of people from those technologically advanced counties that allow ballot submission by email, having all of the forms accessible online is too convenient to complain about. At this point, I’m just crossing my fingers that my ballot made it to Virginia safely and that the ballot counters in my county are more scrupulous than those down in Harrisonburg.