For U.S. expats, time to register to vote

July 13, 2012

From the print edition

Amid the carnival rides and concession stands, one of the most popular attractions at last week’s annual Fourth of July picnic was United States President Barack Obama. 

Well, not the president himself, but his likeness in the form of a life-size paper cutout in the middle of the Cervecería Costa Rica fairgrounds, north of San José.

Throughout the U.S. Independence Day celebration, picnickers posed with Obama’s smiling cardboard countenance. Even U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Anne S. Andrew snapped a shot with the Prez. 

On both of sides of Obama, attendees worked to determine whose portrait (the incumbent or a jovial photo of Republican nominee Mitt Romney) would be at next year’s fair – and in the White House.

Yes, absentee ballot season has arrived. Time to sign up.

With the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 6 only months away, the U.S. Embassy and political expatriate groups Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad scouted the fairgrounds for U.S. citizens aged 18 or older, the minimum voting age. The easiest way to receive an absentee ballot is by signing up through the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website, www.FVAP.gov. The U.S. Embassy and local political organizations are available to assist in the process. 

At the picnic, Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad each registered some 60 voters. 

Nelleke Bruyn, of Democrats Abroad, said she’s seeing enthusiasm from U.S. expats to exercise their right to vote. 

“They want to make sure to vote,” Bruyn said. “[Democrats] would like to have the Congress back and re-elect Obama.”

She said those who registered came from states like California, Tennessee, Texas and Florida, an all-important swing state that could be decided by the slimmest of margins.

Barbara Baird, secretary of Republicans Abroad, said some registering voters proclaimed themselves first-time “converts” to the GOP. 

 Despite their names, the groups remain nonpartisan for voter registration and help expat voters understand the rules of absentee ballots. Said Bruyn: “You can’t decide Ohio needs more Democrats [so] I’m going to register Ohio.”

Every year, expat voters should fill out a new Federal Post Card Application and send it to local election officials in the U.S., often in the last place of residence or voting. That can be done through the government website www.FVAP.gov

Many states allow voters to verify registration and track a ballot’s progress. Instructions for registering vary state by state. The FVAP website will inform a user if they can receive the form via email, mail or fax. Specific instructions also are given on how to send ballots back.

Blank ballots arrive electronically or through the mail 45 days before the November general elections. Lea Rivera, in charge of voting abroad assistance at the U.S. Embassy, said if a ballot hasn’t come by the first week of October, voters can contact the embassy about how to fill out an emergency ballot.

Once a ballot is mailed out, the U.S. Embassy can mail your ballot, or the form can be sent through the Costa Rican postal service. Bruyn recommends that when sending ballots via local mail, ask for the package to be certificado (certified), which produces a tracking number.

Officials say the bureaucratic process for registering is simple, and U.S. Embassy personnel can help answer questions or aid in filling out a form. The Costa Rican chapters of Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad also offer assistance. Fill out your absentee forms as soon as possible so you’ll receive the ballot before the election.

“We’re trying to get people to submit the absentee forms by [Aug. 15] to ensure they get the ballot,” Rivera said. 

For more information on how to register for an absentee ballot in Costa Rica, contact:

The U.S. Embassy in San José: 2519-2000;

Nelleke Bruyn of Democrats Abroad: bruynn@yahoo.com;

Barbara Baird of Republicans Abroad: Bb5440@gmail.com

Correction: The original article misstated Nelleke Bruyn’s email, Barbara Baird’s email and the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website. Bruyn’s email address is bruynn@yahoo.com. Baird’s email address is Bb5440@gmail.com. The website is www.FVAP.gov

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