Articles, Baja Norte

Voting… Your Privilege, Your Right

Many (5.7 million) US citizens live outside the United States, and 2.6 million of them can legally vote. In Mexico alone, there were 64,852 Americans of voting age in 2014.  Many of these expats don’t realize that it is perfectly legal to vote in United States elections even though they no longer live on US soil. As a US citizen, if you hold the right to legally vote in the US, you have the right to vote anywhere in the world. Americans living on foreign soil are allowed to vote for the offices of president, state senator and the local representative (based on the physical address used while living in the United States) while living full time outside the country.

Absentee ballots play a critical function in the outcome of federal and state elections. Several sitting senators and representatives were elected only after all absentee ballots were tabulated.

It’s easy to request an absentee ballot. You may request a ballot at www.VoteFromAbroad.org. Select your home state from the list and make note of the important dates listed on the site. Each state has different “due” dates for each election. For example: For the November 3 general election in the State of California, registrations to vote must be postmarked by October 19; ballot requests must be received by the office by October 27; and completed ballots must be postmarked by November 3 and received by the third day after the election. To determine whether or not you are still registered to vote, enter the personal information requested on the home page and if you’re registered, you’ll be directed to a voting site.

Some states drop names from voter rolls when a certain number of elections were missed without a posted ballot. Some states require a periodic “check in” with your local office every four or six years. If you neglected to reply to an official notice from your (US) local election office, they may drop you from the rolls. Some states will remove the names of anyone who does not vote in the previous Presidential election. Do your due diligence and make sure prior to October 1 that you are legally able to vote.

If you have registered for absentee voting your ballot should arrive by early October for the November 3 election. If mailing within the US, return the ballot by October 27. If outside of the US, mail in the ballot by October 13. And if you do not receive your ballot in time, you may fill out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) from www.FVAP.gov. Print, sign, and send this ballot directly to your State Election Office.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) www.FVAP.gov has conducted an Overseas Citizen Population Analysis that consists of who can vote, characteristics of overseas voters (ok, Mexico is not “overseas”).

In 2014 elections 93,000 absentee ballots, representing just 4% of eligible voters, were received. The rate of return on ballots depends largely on the country where the expat is living. For many of us in Baja, we receive our US ballots in our US mail which is delivered regularly, and return it promptly. But there are many of us who leave it in our “in” box until we find it during spring cleaning. The top three reasons for not voting were people faced absentee voter issues; potential voters felt “out of touch” with their local or national community; others had no particular candidate preference.

Ballots should be mailed to either your US home of record (physical address) or your mailing address in the US.  It’s ok to use an old home address. The last place you legally lived in the United States is your “home address,” Even if it has been torn down to build a Walmart. (Just don’t use it as the address at which you want to receive your ballot).

You may request registration information or download a federal postcard application at the FVAP site. Follow all the requirements. This IS a federal document. If online isn’t your thing, you may contact them at FVAP – Department of Defense; 4800 Mark Center Drive, Suite 05E22; Alexandria, Virginia 22350-5000. Phone: 1-800-438-8683; email: vote@fvap.gov.

You may wonder why I am writing this article so far ahead of the November election. FVAP suggests requesting your ballot for this year’s general election by August 1, if you are not previously registered to vote by mail. You must be at least 18 years of age and absent from your voting residence. For individual state information and voting procedures, go to: https://www.FVAP.gov/YOUR STATE NAME HERE. There are PDF downloads, state voting guidelines, your state election website, and a list of local election officials.

Your home state may allow for electronic voting. For information and formatting correct for your home state, send an email to ets@fvap.gov, or call 1-800-368-8683 for information regarding completing and faxing your ballot electronically.

Another voter aid site is UOCAVA, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act under the auspices of the US Department of Justice. Enacted by Congress in 1986, this includes all members of the US Armed Services, Merchant Marines, their families, and was expanded to include “US citizens residing outside of the United States.”  This site has many of the same services as FVAP.

www.OverseasVoteFoundation.org will also provide information on voting, registration, election dates and deadlines, voting requirements by state, a Directory of Election Officials, candidate information, and a help desk.

Also, the US Consulate is available in Tijuana/Otay Mesa, and can help with your voting problems and needs by providing information. There is a very good driving map on their webpage, https://mx.usembassy.gov. Their mailing address is American Consul General; Box 439039; San Ysidro, CA 92143-9039. The Consulate can provide information but you cannot vote at any US Embassy or Consulate.

If you would like to claim a new legal residence, you should contact a Judge Advocate General Officer or legal consul to ensure there are no illegalities.

Do your duty. It’s your right…your privilege.  Remember YOUR VOTE COUNTS!

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