Absentee ballots may be the last thing on the minds of many from the Hurricane Florence-ravaged areas of North Carolina and South Carolina, but it’s a key time for these ballots to be sent to members of the military and overseas citizens.
Local election officials across the country must mail absentee ballots to these voters who have already requested them by the federally mandated deadline of Sept. 22. Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, absentee ballots must be sent at least 45 days before election day, which this year is Nov. 6, to give these voters enough time to vote.
As of Sept. 20, neither North Carolina or South Carolina had requested a waiver for sending out their absentee ballots by the deadline, said Meghan Kelly, spokeswoman for the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
“We have been in touch with both the North Carolina and South Carolina State Election directors and offered any assistance we can,” she said.
“Ongoing discussions continue between North Carolina, South Carolina, and the U.S. Postal Service. Both the Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Military Postal Service are standing by to assist as necessary with any special communications," she added.
Many states, including North Carolina and South Carolina, allow military and overseas citizens to request their absentee ballots electronically. All states allow for at least one form of electronic transmission of the blank ballot to the voter.
UOCAVA applies to military and eligible family members voting absentee from anywhere — stateside or overseas — as well as to U.S. citizens living overseas.
Still time to register to vote
For those who haven’t registered to vote, or requested an absentee ballot, there’s still time. A spot check of 11 states’ registration deadlines showed the earliest one coming up is Alaska, on Oct. 7. Some have a deadline of as late as Nov. 6. North Carolina has a deadline of Nov. 5 to register, as well as to request a ballot. But officials advise those voting by absentee ballot to start the process as soon as possible to account for mail delivery time.
You can register to vote and request your absentee ballot at the same time by using the Federal Post Card Application, specifically for military and overseas citizen absentee voters. You can download that FPCA at www.fvap.gov, DoD’s voter assistance website, and find the correct address where you should mail, email or fax it.
FVAP has also shipped thousands of FPCAs around the world to military installations, embassies, and consulates, Kelly said.
This year, officials have debuted a redesigned FPCA. They’ve also redesigned the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which serves as a backup ballot if a voter doesn’t get the requested absentee ballot in time from election officials. But older versions of the form can still be used, as long as the latest guidance from FVAP.gov or the Voting Assistance Guide is followed, Kelly said.
The FVAP site also links directly to state election websites, where you can connect directly to your state election official to register and request the ballot. FVAP.gov is the website of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, whose mission is to make sure service members, their eligible family members and overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote, and have the tools and resources to do so from anywhere in the world.
Kelly said some overseas voters have told FVAP officials that a few individual state election websites may be blocked to international IP addresses.
“There are various reasons this is happening, and we continue to work with the states to allow access to known overseas locations,” Kelly said.
At the same time, the FVAP site is available to all UOCAVA voters, stateside and overseas, so voters can use the FVAP site to complete the FPCA and find contact information, and information about submitting the forms to their local election office.
Information on each state’s deadlines and procedures — and links to their state election websites — is easily found on www.fvap.gov. In addition, installations and units have trained voting assistance officers. Questions can also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mailing an absentee ballot from overseas?
Service members can mail their absentee ballot from overseas by priority mail express for free. They use a unique label that is for use only with absentee ballots originating from overseas military postal locations, FPO or APO. Label 11-DoD, when affixed to the absentee ballot envelope or flat, will allow military members to track their vote all the way to their local election office. The use of this label has begun for this election cycle, and will continue through Dec. 8.
Give the ballot time to get there
The Military Postal Service Agency, which handles military mail once it leaves the U.S., has a list of recommended deadline dates for absentee ballots from overseas to ensure they get there by election day. For example, those mailing from APO addresses in Antarctica, and from Navy and Marine Corps deployed mobile unit Fleet Post Offices should mail them by Oct. 7. Those mailing them from mailing from deployed Navy ships should mail them by Oct. 12.
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.