For some service members, military voting isn’t any different than traditional voting: you register in the area that you live and cast your ballot at specific voting centers, rather than via absentee ballot. However, many service members opt to retain their home of record during their time in service as their voting residence, which means you can still vote on local legislation in the community you come from, and your votes for national leaders will need to be done through the mail using an absentee ballot.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program is here to help, with lots of resources available on their website to help service members ensure their vote counts in each election.
“The Federal Voting Assistance Program works to ensure service members, their eligible family members, and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so — from anywhere in the world,” said David Beirne, the FVAP director.
Every state has it’s own rules regarding when you need to apply for your absentee ballot prior to an election, and when you need to mail it back by. You can find a complete list of state absentee ballot requirements and deadlines here.
Casting your vote with an absentee ballot
Military voting is largely done via absentee ballot through the mail. Once you’ve identified your home-of-record’s deadlines above, you’ll need to follow these steps to ensure your vote gets counted in the upcoming election.
Step 1: Register to vote (and request your absentee ballot)
Fill out the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) and send it to your election office.
Check your voter registration deadline for the upcoming election based on your state of record. For the General Election (the 2020 Presidential Election), it’s best to send in your FPCA by August 1 at the latest.
Using the FPCA will ensure your state sends your ballot to you at least 45 days before the election. That’s a protection that isn’t guaranteed when using other forms provided by individual states.
It’s a good idea to send in a new FPCA every January and each time you move.
Not sure what your voting residence is? Your voting residence may be the same location as your Home of Record, but it doesn’t have to be. Your home of record is the location you entered military service in, but you can opt to change your voting residence to anywhere you live.
The easiest way to check to see where your voting residence is, is to look at your Leave and Earnings statement (LES). The state you pay taxes to is also your state of voting residence.
Step 2: Complete your absentee ballot when it arrives
For the upcoming presidential election, you should expect to receive your absentee ballot by early October. To be safe, you should complete your ballot and mail it back as soon as you receive it. Each state has specific deadlines on when an absentee ballot must be received in order to be counted. You can find the deadline for your state here.
Here are some general rules of thumb for when you should ensure you have your vote mailed in by:
What if you don’t receive your absentee ballot in time?
If you’re concerned about the status of your absentee ballot, you can contact the election office for your voting residence to inquire about its status. You can find a full list of election offices here.
If it doesn’t look like you’ll receive your ballot in time, don’t worry. You can still cast your absentee ballot by printing out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) and mailing that in. You can fill the document out online, print it, sign it, and mail it in prior to your voting deadline.
What about military spouses?
“There are many myths surrounding the military voting process, so the most important thing for military voters and their eligible spouses and dependents to know is that there are absentee voting resources on FVAP.gov designed to meet their voting needs when they are deployed or stationed overseas,” Beirne said.
Much like the service members, military spouses can choose to retain their military sponsor’s home of residence for voting purposes, choose their own established residence, or establish a new residence in the area that they live.
Ensure you know where your voting residence is (the state in which you do or would pay taxes to), and then follow the same steps as above.
What about other elections?
You can vote in all your state’s elections via absentee ballot. You can find a list of election dates and states here.
If you want to ensure you never miss an election, you can subscribe to the Federal Voting Assistance mailing list to receive alerts about when and how you can cast you vote in an upcoming election!
Most installations have a voting office on site that you can also go to for help, guidance, or more information on the absentee ballot voting