With just two months left before the Nov. 8 general midterm elections, it’s time for military absentee voters to make sure they’re on track to receive and return their ballot in time for it to be counted.
If you have any doubts about how important your absentee ballot is, think about the 2020 elections.
There are plenty of resources to help you figure out how to vote by absentee ballot, whether you’re a service member or family member stationed overseas or in the U.S. and away from your local voting jurisdiction.
Officials with the Defense Department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program told Military Times they’ve seen a slight uptick in the number of downloads of the Federal Post Card Application, or FPCA, and the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, or FWAB, compared to the most recent midterm elections in 2018.
So far, they’ve seen the expected traffic to FVAP.gov and their voting assistance resources at 1-800-438-8683 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Extensive information is available about how to locate your local election jurisdiction, individual state deadlines and other requirements.
And again this year, military members and eligible family members living overseas are able to use the free expedited mail service, using the Label 11-DoD at their military post office. Voters can track the return of their voted ballot up to the point of delivery at their election office.
But first, if you haven’t registered to vote in your voting jurisdiction, it’s time to do that now. There’s still time: federal law requires that states set their voter registration deadlines no more than 30 days before an election. States’ voter registration deadlines vary from 30 days before, to right up to election day.
Military absentee voters can use the Federal Post Card Application, or FPCA, to both register to vote and to simultaneously request their absentee ballot from their local election jurisdiction. Some states allow voters to send their FPCA electronically.
Don’t assume you’ll automatically receive an absentee ballot if you voted by absentee ballot in previous years. FVAP officials encourage military voters to send the FPCA every year and when they move.
Voters can also request absentee ballots through state applications.
However, officials encourage the use of the FPCA among military absentee voters and U.S. citizens living overseas. Returned ballots requested using the FPCA were counted at a higher percentage than ballots requested through state applications, according to an analysis of the 2020 general election conducted by FVAP.
Military absentee voters, whether voting from overseas or from another location in the U.S. when they’re away from their voting residence, have certain protections under federal law. The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, commonly referred to as UOCAVA, applies to military members and their eligible family members who are away from their voting residence, as well as U.S. citizens living overseas.
Among other provisions, the law requires states to send absentee ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before federal elections. Beginning the weekend of Sept. 24, which is 45 days before Nov. 8, “we recommend voters return the ballot as soon as possible to ensure it has time to reach the election office before the state deadline,” officials stated.
That matters for other reasons, too. According to the FVAP analysis of the 2020 general elections, the closer to election day that a ballot is received, the more likely it is to be rejected. The voter’s knowledge of state requirements, including deadlines and signature requirements, reduce the likelihood of ballot rejection close to election day — when there isn’t much time to resolve the issues.
For those who are in a situation where they may not be able to get their state ballot by mail or electronically, voters should use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, or FWAB, which works like a backup ballot. If your state ballot arrives after you send the FWAB, you can still fill out and send the FWAB; only one will be counted, FVAP officials said.
Your voting residence is within your state of legal residence or domicile. It is the address that you consider your permanent home and where you had a physical presence, and for service members, and is typically the same address listed on your Leave and Earnings Statement.
Some resources for voters:
*Check the status of your registration and ballot through your state site at https://www.fvap.gov/links#verification
*Check your state’s specific deadlines at https://www.fvap.gov/military-voter
*Add election dates and reminders to your mobile calendar at https://www.fvap.gov/calendar-alerts
*Other sources of information include your installation’s voting assistance office, and your unit’s voting assistance officer.
*The non-partisan Overseas Vote Foundation also offers extensive information and assistance in the absentee voting process.
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.