Voting While You’re Away From Home: The Absentee Voting Process

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Voting While You’re Away From Home: The Absentee Voting Process

When military life takes you away from home, you and your family can use an absentee ballot and ensure your voices are heard on Election Day. It only takes a few quick steps to cast your vote no matter where you are in the world.

Getting started with absentee voting

Here’s how to make sure you cast your absentee ballot correctly.

  • Complete the Federal Post Card Application. The Federal Voting Assistance Program encourages the use of the Federal Post Card Application since it is a quick and easy way to start the absentee voting process. The FPCA is standardized for use across all states and extends your eligibility to receive a ballot for all federal elections in which you are eligible to vote. It acts as both a registration and an absentee ballot request form so military voters are encouraged to submit a new FPCA every year and each time they move. You can fill it out online with an assistant's help, download a PDF version or pick up a hard copy version from your unit voting assistance officer.
  • Sign and send the FPCA to your local election office. Your local election office is in the county where you have established residency. Find the mailing address you need and more information about your state's requirements on the voter registration and ballot page. You can also ask for the address from your voting assistance officer.
  • Receive your absentee ballot.
  • Vote, sign and return the ballot. After filling in and signing your ballot, return it to your state before the election deadline arrives.

Votes from service members and their families who are away from their home state matter in every election. The outcome of a close race often can't be announced until after all absentee ballots are counted.

How to handle any voting issues

What if you don't receive your ballot on time and the deadline is approaching? What if you don't know your state's deadline because you just moved? Here are your options:

  • Use an emergency backup ballot. If you do not receive your ballot and are in danger of missing the absentee voting deadline, your voting assistance officer can provide you with an emergency or backup ballot called an SF 186 Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, or you can use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot online assistant to help you fill out the form. All states accept this ballot for all federal elections.
  • Know your state's absentee deadline. Every state sets its own due date for absentee ballot applications and the actual ballot, so make sure you know it ahead of time. Learn everything you need to know about your state's deadlines. Also, the Military Postal Service Agency estimates mail delivery times from all over the world before each election, which eliminates guesswork. To be on the safe side, follow the recommended mailing dates.
  • Submit a new FPCA every year and when you move. Add this task to your moving checklist so you'll be prepared for every election.

Where can I ask for help?

You can get assistance online or face-to-face:

Your vote matters and no matter where you are, you should cast your ballot in every election. It’s your right. Keep track of your state’s primary election dates and take these simple steps to ensure your voice is heard on Election Day.

Federal Voting Assistance Program resources

Coronavirus disease 2019: Voters can find helpful resources on, including COVID-19 information and two visual maps that depict how states accept the FPCA or ballot.

Envelopes: Voters can also download postage-paid envelope templates that will allow them to mail back their voting materials free of charge from any military post at a military installation or via diplomatic pouch at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas.

Languages: Voters who prefer to read absentee voting information in Arabic, French or Spanish can find translations of instructions for filling out the FPCA and FWAB.

Installation Voting Assistance Office: Active-duty military and military spouses can find and get help from their IVAO.

Subscribe: Voters can also subscribe to receive voting emails.

Calendars: Voters also have access to voting alerts and calendar reminders for their state.

Ambassadors: Voters living in Rome, Tokyo and London can reach out to FVAP voting ambassadors who coordinate in-person and virtual events, including:

Social media: Voters can also follow FVAP on social media to tune in to Facebook Live events, absentee voting best practices and more.