Chapter 1

How to vote absentee

To vote in a U.S. election, on the day of the election you must:
  • be a U.S. citizen.
  • be 18 years old. 
  • be absent from your voting residence.

Voting absentee?

The absentee voting process in this guide applies to you if you are:

  • an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine;
  • an eligible spouse or family member of an active duty member of the Uniformed Services or Merchant Marine; or
  • 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 activated on State orders, in some States.

See State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee voting procedures by State or territory.

This guide does NOT apply to you if:

  • you are located at your voting residence on election day.

To vote locally contact your election office or complete a National Voter Registration Form (NVRF), which may be obtained from your Installation Voter Assistance Office (IVA Office).

Contact your State election office or website for more information. See Chapter 2 Absentee voting procedures by State or territory for contact information.

 

How do you vote absentee?

There are three steps to voting absentee in an election:

Step 1: Register and request your absentee ballot using the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA)

Under the federal law, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), the FPCA registers you to vote and requests absentee ballots for a minimum of all federal elections in the current calendar year.

To get an FPCA

How often should I complete an FPCA? To ensure you continue to receive absentee ballots during your time away from your voting residence, be sure to submit a new FPCA every January, each time you change your address, and at least 90 days prior to the election you want to vote in.

Online version:

  • Use the online assistant at FVAP.gov to complete your FPCA. The online assistant filters your State's requirements as you go through the process of completing the form. Download the PDF package, print, sign and send.
  • Visit FVAP.gov to download the fillable FPCA. Complete it using your State's requirements listed in Chapter 2 of the Voting Assistance Guide. Print, sign and send.
  • NOTE: You will need to have your own envelope to send your completed FPCA by mail. Envelope templates are available to download online at FVAP.gov.

Hardcopy version:

  • Get a hardcopy FPCA from a Voting Assistance Officer (VAO) or at an Installation Voter Assistance (IVA) Office at any military installation, U.S. embassy and/or consulate.
  • Make a copy of the FPCA found in Chapter 1 or the Appendix of the Voting Assistance Guide.

Send your completed and signed FPCA to your election official.

To find your State transmission methods, see State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee voting procedures by State or territory.

 

Step 2: Receive your absentee ballot

How do I know what information must be included in the FPCA? Chapter 2 of the VAG provides State by State instructions for completing and transmitting the FPCA.

Your election official will process your FPCA to determine the appropriate ballot to send you.  If you have questions about the status of your FPCA, contact your local election office.  Your local election official will contact you if your application is denied or if they need additional information from you in order to process your form. 

Election officials are required to send absentee ballots 45 days before an election for those who are registered and have requested a ballot. If you submit your FPCA within  45 days of the election, they will send your ballot as soon as possible, upon processing your form.

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

 

What if I do not receive my absentee ballot and the election is 30 days away? If you do not receive your State absentee ballot 30 days before the election, use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). Information about the FWAB can be found in Chapter 1 and your State pages in Chapter 2.

Step 3a: Return your voted State ballot

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

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

See State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee voting procedures by State or territory.

 

Step 3b: If you do not receive your State ballot

If you do not receive your State absentee ballot in time to return it to your election office by the State deadline, use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).

The FWAB serves as a backup ballot for voters covered by UOCAVA. The FWAB can be used in all States and territories to vote for federal offices (President/Vice President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Representative and Delegate or Resident Commissioner). Some States allow the FWAB to be used to vote for State and local offices.

See State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee voting procedures by State or territory.

To get a FWAB

Want information on candidates? Visit your State election website where candidate information may be available 30 days before the election.

Online version:

  • Use the online assistant at FVAP.gov to complete the FWAB. The online assistant filters your State's requirements as you go through the process of completing the FWAB. Download the PDF package, print, sign and send.
  • Visit FVAP.gov to download the fillable FWAB. Complete it using the State requirements listed in Chapter 2 of the Voting Assistance Guide. Print, sign and send.
  • NOTE: You will need to have your own envelopes to submit your completed FWAB by mail. Envelope templates are available to download online at FVAP.gov.

Hardcopy version:

  • Get a hardcopy FWAB from a Voting Assistance Officer (VAO) or at an Installation Voter Assistance (IVA) Office at any military installation, U.S. embassy and/or consulate.
  • Make a copy of the FWAB found in Chapter 1 or the Appendix of the Voting Assistance Guide.

Send your completed and signed FWAB package to your election official.

To find your State transmission methods, see State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee voting procedures by State or territory.

 

 

 
 
The FWAB consists of:

If you receive your State absentee ballot after submitting the FWAB, complete and return it. If both the FWAB and State absentee ballot are received by the deadline, only one will count.

  • Voter's Declaration/Affirmation
  • Official Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot with Security Envelope attached
  • Mailing Envelope.

Send your completed and signed FWAB to your election official.

To find your State transmission methods, see State requirements in Chapter 2 Absentee voting procedures by State or territory.

Timeline of the absentee voting process:

 Step What When
1 Register and request an absentee ballot using the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA).

January of each year

2 Receive your absentee ballot from your State election office. 45-30 calendar days before the election
3a & 3b

Return your State absentee ballot to your State;

If you do not receive your State absentee ballot, use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB)

As soon as you receive it
NOTE: If you are overseas or on a deployed naval vessel 30 calendar days before the election
 NOTE: If you are a stateside Uniformed Service member or eligible family member 7 calendar days before the election