About the Author: Elizabeth Gracon is the Chief Voting Action Officer in the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.
It goes without saying that tomorrow is a historic election day for Americans. Yet Americans who turn up tomorrow at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas (and there are always a few!) will be disappointed to learn that diplomatic facilities are not polling places, and that they are too late to vote for the 44th President of the United States. Millions of Americans who are voting from abroad have already marked and mailed their absentee ballots to their state voting officials.
Our Voting Assistance Officers overseas have seen intense interest in this year’s election among American citizens who live abroad. First-time voters turned out in droves to register and vote absentee. Many young voters were surprised to learn that unlike much of their shopping, banking and communication, voting can’t be done on the Internet.
The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) allows members of the uniformed services, their family members and all U.S. citizens residing outside of the United States to vote by absentee ballot. Citizens outside the United States vote in the state or territory where they last resided immediately prior to departing from the United States. The Federal Voting Assistance Program at the Department of Defense (DOD) takes the lead on coordination with the states and communication with military voters. At the State Department, we cooperate closely with DOD to facilitate outreach to millions of private citizens overseas.
Americans overseas typically register to vote, request an absentee ballot, and return the completed ballot by “snail mail.” This year, some states expanded electronic transmission options, which allowed voters to receive their blank ballots by e-mail or fax, but many states still required voters to complete the entire process by regular mail. International mail can be cumbersome, and voters in remote areas may not have received their ballots in time to complete and return them by November 4. To counter this problem, the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot serves as an emergency ballot that can be used by all registered overseas voters who requested, but did not receive their state ballots in time.
Voting Assistance Officers at every U.S. embassy and consulate overseas were busy this election season. Their work started long before the primaries (remember those?). They explained the process to voters, provided voter registration forms and emergency ballots, and collected completed ballots to be mailed back to the United States. They staffed or supported non-partisan voter registration drives and invited Americans to join them for voting parties or to watch the debates. All of these efforts were aimed at making sure that American citizens, no matter where they were in the world, could vote in this election.
The millions of Americans abroad are as diverse as Americans at home. They hail from all regions of the country and care about the same issues as Americans who reside in the United States. At State, we help our fellow citizens abroad to enjoy the same opportunity as Americans at home to exercise one of our most fundamental rights – the right to elect our government representatives.
Americans overseas are citizen ambassadors for our country. By voting absentee, they make their voices heard on November 4, and they show the world that democracy is a global right.