As an American abroad — whether you’re on business, on vacation, or living somewhere indefinitely as an expatriate — you can still vote in the U.S. primaries, general presidential election, and perhaps in your state’s elections.
But you need to register. It takes a few minutes of your time, but it’s relatively easy to do.
How to Register
Visit your country clerk’s office in your city before you leave the U.S. In some instances, if you’re leaving the U.S. close to an election, you can register and vote immediately by absentee ballot (which is sealed right in front of you). You’ll need your driver’s license or some other identification that proves you live in that county. This is what I did before I left New Hampshire at the end of October 2008, right before the last presidential election.
If you’re already abroad, go online to the Federal Assistance Voting Program. Click on your state of last residence and follow the instructions. You can register online and then receive your voting ballot either by email or regular mail. You must send it back, however, by regular mail to the U.S. You must be able to either print out an online ballot, which will be sent to you, and then mail it, or you must be at an address where you can receive the voting ballot.
Contact the American Embassy in the country you’re visiting or living in. Follow the embassy’s instructions for registering. Close to an election, the embassy may host a voting registration booth in different locations. I went to one yesterday (for the presidential election of 2012) in the Tigne Mall in Sliema, Malta. Remember that if you’re abroad, you need to register to vote by absentee ballot. You will not be able to just go and vote at your embassy on election day. To vote in the U.S. presidential election, you must be registered by October 6, 2012.
The Information You Need to Register
You don’t need your American passport, believe it or not. I was very surprised by this and brought mine with me to register in Malta. To be on the safe side, bring your passport — you never know. There will be a staff member of your American embassy on hand to answer your questions and tell you how to fill out the form, which should take about five or so minutes. Just make sure you don’t talk politics; it won’t be tolerated.
Here’s what you do need for the registration form:
– The last four digits of your Social Security number or your American driver’s license number. If you have both, put them down on the form where indicated.
– Indicate that you are one of three status possibilities: a member of the uniformed services, an American abroad for a limited amount of time, an American abroad indefinitely.
– Your current address abroad, phone number, email and fax (if available). This is where your ballot materials will be sent after your registration is reviewed and approved back in the U.S. You can choose to have them sent to an actual address or by email to you.
– Your complete address of your previous state residence. This is where your driver’s license comes in handy. You must provide your previous address even if you never intend to to back to that address. In my case, I put down my old address in Dover, New Hampshire, and I never plan on going back there. But that’s the address on my driver’s license, and that’s what counts.
– Your previous county of residence. If you don’t know this, the attendant will look up your address in a big book and tell you what to write.
– Check off and attest to — under threat of perjury — that you are, indeed, an American citizen, that you haven’t committed a felony that prevents you from voting, and that you aren’t trying to register in another district in the U.S.
– Your signature and date at the end of the form, signifying that you are filling out this registration form now in front of someone.
– The attendant will tell you if you need to have your form signed by a witness. This depends on your state, and luckily, New Hampshire doesn’t require a witness signature.
– Bring along someone to help you fill out out the form if you think you’ll have trouble, such as vision impairment or an unsteady hand. The attendant is not allowed to — and will not — help you fill out the form if you have trouble. So bring along a companion. While I was registering in Malta, I helped an 85-year-old man fill out his form, which he signed; the attendant said he could not help him.
While it’s tempting to let the election pass by because you’re not in the States to vote, take the extra time to register. It will make you feel like an American during a very important time. May your candidate win, especially if he’s the same as mine!