A Life in Paris

Voting Abroad

November 2, 2016
Voting abroad absentee ballot expat

The French are surprised to learn I voted by mail.

They have two options for voting while abroad: going to the local French embassy in the country where you are staying or naming another French person to go to your precinct in your place.

For Americans abroad it’s a bit more complicated.

All US elections are, of course, state-run, so the embassy isn’t much help as it’s a federal entity. They did offer some voter assistance, but you can’t simply go there and cast your vote.

Although voting from abroad isn’t easy, I was – and always will be – determined to do it.

I was brought up in a rather patriotic family.

They taught me that it was important to give back to the community and the country that we lived in. There were volunteer firemen, Marines, nurses, Girl Scout and Boy Scout leaders, judges, politicians, police officers… My aging but lively grandmother gave back by driving other elderly people to their doctors appointments and to the grocery store.

I had a sense that we all had a part to play in making the country function well, and being an engaged citizen meant giving back in some way, reading the news, and always voting.

Once an American citizen, always an American citizen!

When I went home this summer to visit family and friends, one family member shrugged off my comment about voting, saying, “Well, you’re French now.” It felt like she was saying, you don’t belong here now: you’re not one of us. While this comment didn’t feel particularly good, it’s also totally wrong.

I’m not French, and moving abroad doesn’t relinquish me of my citizenship – or my strong attachment to my home country.

As we say in the US, I’m proud to be American. I’m grateful for the privileged experiences I’ve had as a result of being born there, and it will always be “home.”

And no matter where I am in the world…

I will always feel like I need to give back to my country, and especially to vote in every local, state and federal election that I can.

So, here I am in France during a vibrant and critically important US presidential election. (Aren’t they all!)

The voting pressure was everywhere, and it started early.

Back in January I started to see Facebook and Instagram ads published by the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) saying “Americans can vote from here… and here…” shown with images of gorgeous mountain ranges and the Eiffel Tower.

The American women’s group I belong to had voting assistance information in every email newsletter and in multiple posts each month in their private Facebook group. They even coordinated workshops to help you figure out how to vote in your state.

The US Embassy also sent out regular email reminders about voting from abroad, and offered tips to ensure citizens were educated about their rights and the assistance available to them.

For my non-US readers, there are three ways to vote in the US: on Election Day in person in your registered precinct, during specially designated “early voting” days – also in person in your registered precinct, or by absentee ballot. Early voting wasn’t an option while I was home in August, since it doesn’t usually start until October. So my only option to vote this year was by absentee ballot.

With all of these reminders, I made a point to ensure in advance that I would be able to vote.

In June I checked the FVAP website and then followed the instructions on the Maryland State Board of Elections website, which essentially required I re-register to vote. The whole process was online and facilitated by my pre-existing drivers license registration. While filling out these online forms there was an option to request an absentee ballot.

I selected this option but since I never received a confirmation by email or by post, I didn’t trust that it had actually happened.

I repeated the process in July, but again received no confirmation that I would receive an absentee ballot.

So, while I was in the US in August I called the Board of Elections, and they confirmed that I would be sent an email at the end of September. Phew!

I received the email exactly as scheduled and it gave me instructions to log onto their website. From there I verified my identity and had the option to download a PDF with my unique ballot. In some states it’s possible to cast your ballot online, but Maryland doesn’t permit that at this time.

absentee ballot - vote from abroad US presidential election


The ballot

In the PDF, there were several pages of instructions, one specifically explaining how to address the envelope, one for the ballot, and one for the signature page. I heard that in some states, the envelope page is actually pre-stamped for you, and you just cut it out and glue it together as an envelope. Maryland didn’t go quite that far.

To mail it, you have several options: regular post, overnight with companies like DHL or FedEx, or via the Embassy. For the third option, your envelope must have US postage on it.

I decided to simply mail it with international postage. It felt risky, because there have been rare times when mail my husband sent to the US from France didn’t make it and was returned to him.

But Maryland is clever.

Their online system allows you to log back in to check that your ballot was received. So, I figured that if my ballot didn’t register on their website by mid-October, I would pay for overnight shipping to get my ballot to the US in time for the election. The waiting began…

And when I checked the site: Success! I had voted!

Absentee Ballot Received Voting abroad presidential election

I may be more than 3,000 miles away…

But my love for my country won’t fade. Voting isn’t just my right, it’s a responsibility, and an importantly critical way to give back to the country that gave me so much.

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  • Reply SassyinDC November 8, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    So glad to hear that you voted. I lived in Iraq for a year, and was appalled out how many of my fellow Americans did not vote while abroad (or back Stateside, for that matter). It’s a privilege to be able to vote, and it should not be taken for granted.


    • Reply Tammy November 13, 2016 at 9:09 am

      I so agree with you!

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