This post has three parts: a story, a voting how-to for our fellow expats, and a soapbox.
First the story.
A few weeks ago, we blogged about using the mail system in Panama to send our ballot requests to Austin, Texas for the upcoming mid-term elections. After after a few phone calls to the Travis County Elections Division (“No, ma’am, it hasn’t arrived yet”), we realized we’d have to go another route to get our ballots and then return them in time to be counted. Our big upcoming trip to Peru threw another monkey wrench in the whole thing. We had to figure it all out this week, before we leave this Saturday.
Fortunately, Travis County enables expat voters to receive and download the ballot via email, and our ballots finally arrived Monday. Yesterday, we completed the ballots and sent them off to Austin via DHL. Yes, it was expensive. But after all the trouble we’d gone to, we wanted to ensure that they would actually get to the right place in time to be counted. We have friends who are headed to the States next week, and they could have taken our ballots and mailed them when they arrived home. The catch there is that we voted through the Federal Voting Assistance Program (more on that below), which requires that ballots be postmarked from your country of residence.
How to vote from outside the U.S.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program is the mechanism by which members of the military and other U.S. citizens abroad can register to vote and then receive and cast a ballot.
Step One is to print out the ballot request from the FVAP website and send it to your local election authority in the jurisdiction in which you are registered to vote. Not registered yet? No problem, the FVAP gets you registered at the same time. In addition to regular mail, Travis County offers the option to scan the ballot requests and fax (Fax? What’s that?) or email them, which saved our bacon when our ballot requests got lost in the Panama postal system.
Step Two is to receive your ballot and return it. After we emailed our ballot requests to Travis County, we got email notification a couple of weeks later that our ballots were ready for downloading. As I mentioned, the ballot must originate from your country of residence, which means it has to be postmarked through the local postal service. You can also use a “common and contract carrier” like we did (e.g. DHL or FedEx). There’s an additional option to send the ballots in a diplomatic pouch through the U.S. Embassy, but we simply ran out of time to pursue that.
There’s still time to vote this way (especially if you AREN’T heading to Peru for almost a month!). One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the deadline for registering to vote (if you’re not already registered) is fast approaching in many places. In Travis County, it’s October 9.
Now the soapbox.
According to the Federal Elections Project, a whopping 42 percent of eligible voters did not turn out to cast their votes in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Forty-two percent! That’s approaching half, and it’s darn near inexcusable. Unhappy with the political situation? You are NOT powerless. There’s one dependable way you can make your voice heard: VOTE.
To put a finer point on it:
If we can go to all this trouble (and yes, expense) to get our ballots and then make sure they get back to our election authorities in time to be counted, you can get in your car and drive a few blocks or walk down the street to your polling place and cast your vote. For you, it’s free. And in many states, there’s early voting or vote-by-mail, which really makes this a no-brainer.
Rant over – I feel better now! Just vote. Pretty please??