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Absentee Voting

All U.S. citizens can now receive their blank ballots electronically.  Depending on the state in which you are eligible to vote, you may get your ballot by email, fax, or Internet download. To start, go to the FVAP website to complete a new Federal Post Card Application (FPCA).  Print and sign the form, and then return it to your local election office in the United States. To ensure that you receive absentee ballots for all elections in which you are eligible to vote, we recommend that you submit a new Federal Post Card Application in January of each year and whenever you have a new mailing address.

If you request electronic delivery and include your email address or fax number, you’ll receive your blank ballot 45 days before general and mid-term elections and generally 30 days before special, primary, and run-off elections for federal offices.  Most states now have voter registration verification websites, and many offer a means of tracking the status of your registration and ballot.

Absentee Voting Basics

Absentee voting is a simple 3-step process:

Every year, you send in a completed Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to local election officials in the U.S. location where you last resided immediately prior to your departure from the United States. See the FVAP website’s Voting Residency Guidelines on “Legal State of Residence” for more information.
They confirm your eligibility to vote and put your name on a list to receive absentee ballots for any elections held that calendar year. They send you a blank absentee ballot electronically or by mail. For more information on your state’s elections, consult the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s Voting Assistance Guide or view a summary of all states’ election dates.
You complete the ballot and send it back so it arrives before your state’s ballot return deadline. If you haven’t received your blank ballot 30 days before an election, don’t wait any longer; use the emergency Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to vote (see “Emergency Write-in Ballot” below for more information on this option).

Registration/Absentee Ballot Request

To vote from abroad, you have to register to vote with local election officials in your state of legal (voting) residence, and every year you have to request to receive absentee ballots. You can use one form to do both – the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). Submit a new FPCA in January of each year, every time you move, change your address, change your email, or change your name.

To complete and address the form, go to the Federal Voting Assistance Program website, select your state, and follow the on-line prompts to complete the form. When you are finished you can print your completed Federal Post Card Application. In addition to the FPCA form, the FVAP website also has a template for printing your own postage-paid envelope in which to mail your FPCA form.

You can always return your FPCA by mail. In addition, most states allow you to send in your FPCA by fax or email. (See “Voting and Returning Your Ballot” below for options.) Consult the online FVAP Voting Assistance Guide for your state’s current instructions. If you need help completing or submitting the form, contact us at voteouaga@state.gov.

Receiving Your Blank Absentee Ballot

Forty-five days before the November general elections, your state will either send your blank ballot to you electronically, or mail it to the address you provided on your FPCA.

Ballots are generally mailed out only 30 days before primary, special and run-off elections. Depending on your state and your status abroad, you may receive absentee ballots for all elections or abbreviated ballots for elections for federal offices only.

Voting and Returning Your Ballot

Complete your ballot carefully and legibly, and return it to your local election officials (instructions usually accompany the ballot materials or see FVAP’s contact information for local election officials) before your state’s ballot receipt deadline. Send it back as early as possible.

Overseas voters have a number of options for returning voted ballots:

  • Local mail – If you have good mail service to the United States, put your ballot in the mail with appropriate international postage.
  • U.S. Embassy – If you wish to mail your voted ballot via the Embassy’s diplomatic pouch, please email the Consular Section at consularouaga@state.gov to coordinate the drop off your ballots. Please note that all visitors to the Embassy are subject to security screening and you will not be permitted to bring electronic devices, including cell phones, inside the facility. It can take up to four weeks for mail to reach its destination if sent by an embassy or consulate via diplomatic pouch. All overseas U.S. citizens are advised to submit their forms and ballots accordingly. Ballots will be received and forwarded whenever submitted but you may want to consider using a courier service if submitting your ballot close to or after the stated delivery time for pouch mail.
  • Fax, Email, or Internet – A number of states now allow the electronic return of voted ballots. Consult the FVAP Voting Assistance Guide for electronic transmission options for your state.
  • Express Courier Service – If time is short or local mail is unreliable, you can use professional courier services such as FedEx, DHL, or UPS. Note: FedEx does not deliver to P.O. boxes.

Using an Emergency Write-in Ballot

Don’t be a passive voter and wait for a ballot that may not reach you in time. If you followed all the right steps but still haven’t received your ballot 30 days before the election, you should complete and submit a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB). Write in the candidates of your choice, print it, sign it, and send it to your local election officials. You may print your own U.S.-postage paid envelope, but attach proper postage if mailing internationally. If your regular absentee ballot arrives later, fill it out and send it back too. Your FWAB will be counted only if your regular ballot doesn’t reach your local election officials by your state’s deadline. Following this procedure will not invalidate your vote or result in two votes being cast.

Voting Eligibility

Almost all U.S. citizens 18 years or older who reside outside the United States are eligible to vote absentee for candidates for federal offices in U.S. primary and general elections. In addition, some states allow overseas citizens to vote for candidates for state and local offices, as well as for state and local referendums. For information regarding your specific state, visit the FVAP Voting Assistance Guide.

For voting purposes, your state of legal residence is generally the state where you resided immediately before leaving the United States, even if you no longer own or rent property or intend to return there in the future. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia specifically allow U.S. citizens who have never resided in the United States to register where a parent would be eligible to vote. Direct your questions about eligibility to your local election officials.

Role of Local Election Officials

All elections in the United States are run at the state and local level.  If local election officials have questions about your form, they’ll contact you. It’s smart to send in your absentee/voter registration form early (ideally, at the beginning of the calendar year, or at least ninety days before the election) to provide time to process your request and resolve any problems.  Once approved, your name will be put on a list of voters to receive absentee ballots.

Verifying Your Registration

Most states now have websites where you can verify your registration.  If you are unsure of your voter registration status, or want to confirm that local officials have received and approved your registration, check the FVAP website for a directory of state voter registration verification websites.  You can also write, email or call your local election officials directly.

Be an Educated Voter

Check out the FVAP links page for helpful resources that will aid your research of candidates and issues you care about.

Voting and Taxes

Voting for candidates for federal offices does not affect your federal or state tax liability.  Voting for candidates for state or local offices could affect your state tax liability.  Consult legal counsel if you have questions.


The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou is available to answer your voting questions.  If you have any questions, please contact Embassy Ouagadougou’s Assistance Officer at 25-49-53-00 or write to us at: voteouaga@state.gov. When requesting voting information by e-mail, please indicate your name and your last legal state of residence.