Chapter 1

How to vote absentee

To vote in a U.S. election, on the day of the election you must:
  • be a citizen of the United States.
  • be 18 years old. (In some States, you can vote in  primary election as a 17-year-old if you will be 18 by the general election.)
  • have requested to vote. (As required by your State of legal residence.)

Voting absentee?

The absentee voting process in this guide applies to:

  • an active duty member of the U.S. Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine
  • an eligible family member of an active duty member
  • a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S.

This guide may also apply to you if you are:

  • a member of the National Guard, in some states

See Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory for more information.

This guide does NOT apply to you if:

  • you plan to vote at the polls on Election Day

If you will be able to vote at your polling place on Election Day, contact your state for specific voting guidelines.

Contact your State election office or website for more information. See Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory for a list of addresses.

 

How do you vote absentee?

There are four steps to voting absentee in the November 4, 2014 General Election. (The following are recommended mailing dates.)

If you do not receive your State absentee ballot by October 4, 2014 use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. If you receive your State absentee ballot, vote and return it. If both ballots are received by the deadline, only the State ballot will be counted.

  What When
1 Register and request an absentee ballot using the Federal Postcard Application (FPCA). By August 1, 2014
2 Receive your absentee ballot from your State election office.
Election offices mail ballots by September 20, 2014 (45 days before the election).
By October 7, 2014
(Date may vary by mail delivery time to your location)
3 Return your voted ballot to your State in time for it to arrive by Election Day.  
  If you are overseas or on a deployed naval vessel: By October 7, 2014
  If you are a stateside Uniformed Service member or family member: By October 28, 2014
4 Ensure your vote is counted. If you have not received your requested ballot, use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). By October 4, 2014

Step 1: Register and request your absentee ballot

What is the Federal Post Card Application:

The FPCA is a single form that you can use to register to vote and/or request an absentee ballot for federal elections.

To request an absentee ballot, complete a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) in the State or territory where you are a legal resident. The FPCA also acts as your voter registration form.

For the November 2014 election, send in your FPCA by August 1, 2014.

To get an FPCA

How often should you complete an FPCA?

  • Submit a new FPCA in January of each year and whenever you change your mailing address.
  • In most States and territories, the same FPCA can be used to request ballots for both the primary and general elections

Online:

  • Use FVAP.gov to complete and print the form, along with a pre-paid envelope and instructions for submitting it.

In person:

  • Get a hardcopy form from a Voting Assistance Officer at military bases, U.S. embassies and consulates, election organizations, and corporations worldwide.

Be sure you provide your complete contact information, including your email address, on your FPCA. If you don't, your request for a ballot may be denied.

For instructions on how to complete the FPCA, see Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory.

To send your FPCA to your local election office, choose one of these options:

  • Use the U.S. postal system, including APO and FPO addresses, to send it postage-paid (for free).
  • Send it through the diplomatic pouches at U.S. embassies and consulates (for free). Contact your U.S. embassy or consulate for estimated delivery times.
  • Send it using a foreign mail service. Be sure to use the correct postage and include USA in the mailing address.
  • Use a private courier service if allowed by your State. You may need the physical address (not a Post Office box) for your local election office.
  • Many States and territories allow you to return your FPCA electronically. See what your State allows in Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory.

How to send the FPCA by email or fax

Need to contact your local election office?

any written correspondence may be emailed or faxed to local election officials in any state

Where allowed by State law, you may email or fax the FPCA to your local election official.

What is the Electionic Transmission Service?

The ETS is a service of the Federal Voting Assistance Program that you can use to send and receive materials from your local or State election office by fax or email at no cost

  1. Complete and sign the FPCA. Follow the instructions for your State in Chapter 2.
  2. Complete the Electronic Transmission Sheet included at the end of this chapter (or an alternate cover sheet containing similar information).
  3. Send the FPCA to your local election office by email or fax. Some States also allow other types of electronic submission. Find the State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or Territory.
    By email By fax
    1. Scan the FPCA and the Electronic Transmission Sheet and save it as a PDF file.
    2. Email the file as an attachment directly to your local election office. (You can find an up-to-date list of email addresses at FVAP.gov.)
    Fax the FPCA directly to your local election office. (You can find an up-to-date list of fax numbers atFVAP.gov.)

    OR

    Use the Electronic Transmission Service (ETS); to fax your FPCA toll-free or by DSN.
    Use a separate transmittal sheet for each FPCA to ensure that the right election official receives each form.
  4. After emailing or faxing, your State may require that you also mail the completed FPCA to your local election office.

See State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory.

If you have questions about the status of your FPCA, contact your local election office. Some States have websites where you can find your voter registration status. Links to these sites and contact information for local election officials can be found at FVAP.gov.

Step 2: Receive your absentee ballot

Your local election official will process your FPCA to determine if you meet the jurisdiction's residency requirements and will decide which ballot to send you.

  • Your local election official will contact you if your application is denied.
  • Local election officials are not required to contact you if your form is approved.

Your ballot will be sent to you on or before September 20, 2014 (45 days before Election Day).

All States must allow you to receive your blank absentee ballot electronically, when requested. This may include email, fax or online download.

For a list of blank ballot transmission methods for your State, see Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory.

We recommend that you send in your ballot by October 7 from overseas or a deployed naval vessel and October 28 from within the U.S. to ensure it is received in time to be counted.

Step 3: Return your voted ballot

Vote and return your State ballot as soon as you receive it. Follow the instructions sent with your ballot to mark and pack your ballot to return.

Know the deadline. The date when your local election office must receive your completed ballot is set by each State.

See the instructions from your local election office for more information.

How to return your voted ballot by mail

Follow the instructions provided by your local election official to mark your ballot and complete any other forms.

To send your ballot by mail, choose one of these options:

  • Use the U.S. postal system, including APO and FPO addresses, to send it postage-paid (for free).
  • Send it through the diplomatic pouches at some U.S. embassies and consulates. You must contact your embassy or consulate prior to using this service. (See embassy contact information in Chapter 3, page 479)
  • Send it using a foreign mail service. Be sure to use the correct postage and include USA in the mailing address.
  • Use a private courier service. You may need the physical address (not a Post Office box) for your local election office.

If you received your ballot electronically, and do not have envelopes, you can:

  • Mail it using the security envelope and ballot transmittal envelope from the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). Detach the envelopes from the rest of the form.
  • Use two plain envelopes: mark one as the security envelope and use the other as the mailing envelope.
  • Use the prepaid envelope template at FVAP.gov as the mailing envelope. Postage will need to be applied if mailing from outside the U.S. postal system.

When you email or fax a voted ballot, it will not be secret. You waive the right to secrecy of the ballot. You must sign and date a statement on the Electronic Transmission Sheet indicating:

"I understand that by faxing or emailing my voted ballot I am voluntarily waiving my right to a secret ballot."

How to return your voted ballot by email or fax

Where allowed by State law, you may email or fax your ballot or Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) to your local election official. Some states also allow other types of electronic submission. Find the State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory.

  1. Complete the Electronic Transmission Sheet included at the end of this chapter (or an alternate cover sheet containing similar information). Include the number of pages being transmitted for each voted ballot. Keep a receipt of the date and time you sent the voted ballot.
  2. Send your ballot to your local election office by email or fax.
    By email By fax
    1. Scan all pages of the ballot and the Electronic Transmission Sheet and save them as a PDF file.
    2. Email the file as an attachment directly to your local election office. (You can find an up-to-date list of email addresses at FVAP.gov.
    Fax all pages of the ballot directly to your local election office, with an Electronic Transmission Sheet. (You can find an up-to-date list of fax numbers at FVAP.gov.)

    OR

    Use the Electronic Transmission Service to fax your ballot or FWAB toll-free or by DSN.

    Send each ballot separately to ensure that it is received by the right election official.
  3. After emailing or faxing, your State may require that you also mail the completed ballot to your local election office.

See State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory section How and Where to Submit your FWAB.

What is the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot?

The FWAB is a back-up way to vote, in case your requested absentee ballot does not arrive in time to vote and return your ballot. It lets you write in the names of the candidate you wish to vote for.

Step 4: Ensure your vote is counted: Using the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB)

If you have not received your State ballot by October 4, use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB).

  • In most cases you can only use the FWAB to vote for Federal offices: President/Vice President, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, Delegate or Resident Commissioner.
  • Some States allow voting for some State and local offices.
  • Some States also use FWAB for registration and ballot request.

Know the deadline. The date when your local election office must receive your completed FWAB is set by each state.

See the instructions from your local election office for more information.

  • If you are living or serving in an area where mail delivery is unreliable, you can submit a FWAB any time after requesting your ballot.
  • If you receive your State absentee ballot, vote and return it. If both ballots are received by the deadline, only the State ballot will be counted.

The FWAB consists of:

  • Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot Instructions
  • Voter's Declaration/Affirmation
  • Official Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot with Security Envelope attached (hardcopy version only)
  • Mailing Envelope (hardcopy version only)

Want information on candidates?

Visit your State election website where candidate information may be available 30 days before the election. (Links are available at FVAP.gov.)

To vote on the FWAB, follow your State's instructions in Chapter 2. You can:

  • Use FVAP.gov to mark and print your ballot, along with your Voter Declaration/ Affirmation, a pre-paid envelope template and instructions for submitting the package.
  • Use the fillable PDF form at FVAP.gov.
  • This version of the FWAB does not contain the envelopes. (Use the pre-paid envelope template available at FVAP.gov.)
  • Get a hardcopy form from a Voting Assistance Officer at military bases, U.S. embassies and consulates, election organizations, and corporations worldwide.

When your FWAB is marked, follow the mailing instructions below to return your ballot:

  1. Put the ballot inside the security envelope and seal it. Do not write on the outside of the security envelope.
  2. Put the security envelope and the Voter's Declaration/ Affirmation form into the mailing envelope.
  3. If you do not have printed envelopes, any two plain envelopes can serve as your security envelope and mailing envelope.
    • Mark one as the security envelope and use the other as the mailing envelope.
    • You may use the online prepaid envelope template as the mailing envelope.

Return the FWAB, following the instructions in Chapter 2 for How to Return Your Ballot.

For instructions on how to complete the FWAB, see Chapter 2 Absentee Voting Procedures by State or territory section Haven't received your ballot? Use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot!

Follow-up with your local election official to ensure your ballot was received.

If you do not receive your State absentee ballot by October 4, 2014 use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. If you receive your State absentee ballot, vote and return it. If both ballots are received by the deadline, only the State ballot will be counted

Recommended mailing dates for the November 2014 General Election

What When
Federal Postcard Application (FPCA) By August 1, 2014
If you are overseas or on a deployed naval vessel return your voted ballot by: By October 7, 2014
If you are a stateside Uniformed Service member or family member return your voted ballot by: By October 28, 2014
Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) By October 4, 2014