Many state primary election dates are coming up, so it’s time for service members and spouses to do what they need to vote by absentee ballot in the county and state they call home.

Presidential primaries are coming up Feb. 11 in New Hampshire, and Feb. 29 in South Carolina. There’s still time to register to vote and request an absentee ballot for the New Hampshire primary.

However, Jan. 30, is the deadline for registering to vote in the Democratic primary in South Carolina. But you can submit the Federal Post Card Application (FCPA) in South Carolina by email, online, fax, as well as by mail. That FCPA allows you to register to vote as well as request an absentee ballot, which is the case for all states. In South Carolina, registered voters can request their absentee ballot by the day of the primary, Feb. 29; the deadline for returning the ballot by email, fax or mail is 7 p.m. Feb. 29.

Dates for states’ primaries vary. Another 15 states and America Samoa will have primary elections on March 3. Check your state’s required registration and ballot return information here. States’ deadlines vary for registering to vote and requesting ballots. Also check to see if your state allows you to return ballots electronically.

Recognizing that many service members are away from the place where they vote, state officials, Congress, and the Federal Voting Assistance Program have taken steps over the years to streamline the process. But generally, it still takes more time than stopping by the polling place to cast your ballot.

If you miss your state’s primaries, you can still vote in the November general election. Officials advise service members —and others interested in voting — to register and request their ballot for the November election no later than July or August to allow plenty of time for processing, and time to return their “voted” ballot.

Even if you voted in previous federal elections, you should send in the FCPA early this year, to ensure you receive the absentee ballot for all the federal elections, and to make sure your information is current.

A central location to find all the information you need, as well as links directly to your state’s voting site, is the Defense Department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program’s www.fvap.gov. It directs you to your local election office in the county and state you call home. The mission of FVAP is to provide up-to-date information for the military community and overseas citizens who want to vote.

The FVAP administers the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, or UOCAVA, which protects the rights of citizens who want to vote in federal elections when they’re absent from their voting jurisdiction. It applies to military members and their eligible family members regardless of whether they’re stationed or deployed in another part of their state, or another part of the world. It also applies to U.S. citizens residing outside the U.S.

Those citizens protected by UOCAVA include:

  • Members of the Uniformed Services (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps)
  • Members of the Merchant Marines
  • Their eligible family members
  • U.S. citizens residing outside the U.S.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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