U.S. citizens living in Costa Rica have likely enjoyed the perk of avoiding the deluge of political ads during the runup to the midterm elections this fall. But just because you didn’t have to suffer through the campaign season doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to vote. With just under two months to go until the Nov. 4 midterm elections, U.S. expats still have time to register and cast an absentee ballot.
That is, unless you’ve renounced your U.S. citizenship.
This November, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs along with Senate seats in 36 states. The Senate is especially competitive this fall with several close races or outright toss-ups. Democrats in the upper chamber hold a slim lead of 53 seats to the 45 held by Republican senators. The two independents in the Senate both caucus with the Democrats.
Voters can register and request an absentee ballot online by filling out a Federal Post Card Application at the Federal Voting Assistance Program website, www.fvap.gov. Registration deadlines in many states start in early October. Many states recommend submitting your ballot within four weeks of the election for overseas residents, but ballots can often be accepted up to the day of the election. Click here for an overview of voting abroad and click on your state for deadlines and eligibility for state and local elections.
Keep in mind that snail mail is not the only option. Depending on the state, registration can be received by email or fax.
David Truslow, chair of Democrats Abroad in Costa Rica, shared with The Tico Times some of the frequent questions and misconceptions people have about voting abroad.
Truslow said many U.S. expats don’t remember where they were last registered to vote. Overseas voters should use their most recent address in the U.S. on the ballot request form. He recommended looking up the zip code online before getting started. Voters can also re-register from abroad as long as they have an address in the U.S. from a friend or family member.
The Democrats Abroad leader warned that expat voters should be careful about what box they check when asked about their intention to return to the United States. “Many expats don’t plan on returning, that’s why they’re expats,” Truslow said. “But some voting districts might throw out your ballot if you say you have no intention of returning to the U.S.” Truslow suggested voters at least mark that they one day plan to repatriate to be certain that their vote gets counted.
Truslow added that even if someone isn’t familiar with the candidates, they can submit a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot and simply select their party preference in the Addendum section. Party-minded voters could save time and submit the FWAB alone.
In 2008, comedian Al Franken won his Senate seat against incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman thanks to a recount of absentee ballots. And let’s not forgot the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election. Living abroad has its perks, but it doesn’t mean having to give up the right to vote.