How to vote in the 2018 midterm elections from Costa Rica

September 23, 2018
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The 2018 midterm elections in the United States are right around the corner. Hundreds of state and congressional seats are up for grabs Nov. 6 and even if you’re relaxing on a hammock at a beach in Costa Rica, you can still vote.

Here’s how:

If you are a U.S. citizen living outside the U.S., and at least 18 years old, you can register to vote as an overseas absentee voter. Your voting state is the last state you lived in before you left the U.S. All US citizens may vote in Federal Elections, that is, President, US Senator and US House of Representatives.

The Congressional Midterm Elections occur every two years and include all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives along with 33 to 34 seats in the US Senate.

As a US citizen, if you never resided in the US, you can submit a Federal Post Card Application to register to vote and request your ballot. On the form, you can choose “I have never lived in the United States” as your voter category.

For your “voting address,” use the last residence of your US citizen parent. If both of your parents are US citizens, you may use the last US address of either US parent.

There are 14 states that do not allow US citizens who have never resided in the US to register to vote: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Illinois (non-military), Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.

Please note, the website votefromabroad.org does not list the “never lived” option for the 14 states that exclude these voters. If you are a US citizen who has never lived in the US and are registering to vote in one of these states, then as a non-military overseas voter, you should choose as your voter type that your “return is uncertain.”

HOW DO I REGISTER TO VOTE OR REQUEST A BALLOT AS A US CITIZEN LIVING ABROAD?

As an overseas voter, you need to send in a form to request your ballot for every election year in which you wish to vote. The form, the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) is only one page and qualifies you for all elections in the calendar year: Primary, General and Special Elections that you may otherwise not be aware of.

Here’s what to do:

1. Go to www.votefromabroad.org, click on “Start Here” and follow the prompts to fill out the form.

  • You will be asked if you “intend to return” or that “my return is uncertain.” Un some states checking intend to return could have state tax consequences. Check if you have any doubt.
  • If you chose “return is uncertain”, you will receive a Federal ballot and more than half of the states (31) will also allow overseas voters who indicate their “return is uncertain” to vote in State elections.
  • As a US citizen living abroad, your voting address is usually the address of the last place you lived in the US. This applies even if your family no longer owns the property or you no longer have ties to the state or that you don’t intend to return to that state.
  • We strongly recommend that voters opt to receive their blank ballot via email/online or fax rather than mail.

2. Print out and SIGN the completed form.

3. Submit the completed and signed form to your US Local Election Official by Mail, Email or Fax–the contact information is in the Instructions. Submission methods and deadlines vary by state, but please note that you do not need a foreign postmark or a consular stamp.

If you have any questions filling out the form, the website has an online chat box (the orange square in the lower right corner of the screen) or you can send an email to votefromabroadcr@gmail.com and request help by phone or email.

4. After you send in your form, be sure to email or call your Local Election Official to verify they received it and will be sending a ballot to you. The contact information is in the printed instructions from VoteFromAbroad.org included with your completed form.

5. What is the difference between a FPCA form and an in-state absentee ballot request?
The FPCA acts like an address update and it also provides significant advantages that are only available to overseas voters such as:

  • It protects your ballot at the federal level in case of a recount. (A ballot that doesn’t have a corresponding FPCA form may be subject to challenge in a close election).
  • You will receive a ballot for every election in that calendar year, including primaries, special elections and runoff elections.
  • You can use the form to request that your ballot be sent to you via email, fax or online instead of postal mail.
  • Your state will send your ballot at least 45 days before the election (If you don’t receive your ballot by the deadline, you can use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) to vote.) Please note: many states allow overseas voters additional time to submit their ballots and/or allow overseas voters to submit ballots via electronic means.

Please send in your FPCA form right away to get your ballot for the 2018 elections.

Even though you may vote in a state that typically sends out a ballot without an annual request, we still urge all overseas voters to send in their form to request a ballot every year to make sure you will be able to vote. And remember, an FPCA form, sent in the calendar year of an election, protects your ballot at the federal level in case of a recount.

WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO RETURN MY VOTED BALLOT?

There are strict requirements for filling out and returning your ballot to ensure your vote is valid and counted accurately. Each state has its own rules and procedures that you must follow for your vote to be counted. Your ballot will come with instructions and deadlines specific to your voting state.

Please be sure to read and follow the instructions completely to fill out your ballot and return by the deadline. If you have any questions, contact your Local Election Official for clarification. Don’t make guesses. If your ballot is rejected, you won’t get a second chance.

MY STATE ALLOWS ME TO RETURN MY VOTED BALLOT ELECTRONICALLY –SHOULD I USE THAT OPTION?

About 30 states now allow overseas voters to return their ballots electronically — that is, by Email, Fax or Online. This can be a huge boon to overseas voters who live in areas where the postal system is unreliable or non-existent or who otherwise may not be able to meet the deadline for returning their ballots.

It’s your choice whether to send in your ballot electronically. There are security and confidentiality concerns, but those risks could be worthwhile if the alternative is not having your ballot counted at all.

  • If your state has online submission, the connection should be secure at both ends and your ballot should remain secret. This may even be more secure than Mail as you don’t have to worry about your ballot being delayed or lost in the Mail.
  • If you submit your ballot by Email or Fax, you will need to sign a waiver of your right to a secret ballot as your ballot will not be sealed when you send in. Your Local Election Official will separate your identifying information from your vote as soon as possible and no one should be able to see how you personally voted, but it will be open when submitted.

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO MAIL IN MY VOTED BALLOT?

If your state requires you to return your voted ballot by mail–or if you chose to mail in your ballot, here are a few suggestions to help you get your ballot in by the deadline:

  • Request your state send your blank ballot to you by Email/Online or Fax so that there’s no delay in getting it. Remember, this is your blank ballot, so there are no privacy concerns. Overseas ballots must go out by September 22 (45 days before the election)
  • Send back your ballot as soon as you can. Or, if the time required for mailing is a big concern, you can have your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) ready to mail in on Sept 22.
  • If you are attending a Vote from Abroad event – bring it and an official from the US Consulate will collect them.
  • If you are near the US Embassy or Consulate, during weekday working hours you may drop it off. The mailing is free if you use the postage-paid mailing template (www.fvap.gov/uploads/FVAP/Forms/fwab_envelopeC4.pdf). Be aware that you will only have up to 14 days before the deadline.

I’M CONCERNED I WON’T GET MY BLANK BALLOT IN TIME, WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Before Sept 22:

States are required to send out ballots to overseas voters 45 days before a scheduled election. If you’ve requested a ballot in 2018, your Nov 6th General Election ballot should be sent out by Sept 22, 2018.

If you’re concerned you may not receive your blank ballot in time to meet the deadline to return your voted ballot, you can send in your vote using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB or “back-up ballot”).

The FWAB is only available to overseas voters who have requested their ballot this calendar year. Some states allow overseas voters to use the FWAB to also register to vote and/or request a ballot and the FWAB instructions will let you know.

However, other states require that you have already submitted your form to request a ballot before you may use the FWAB. If you vote in one of these states, be sure to email or call your Local Election Official to verify they received your form and are sending you a ballot. If your Local Election Official doesn’t have you registered as an overseas voter or if they haven’t received your form to request your ballot, you’ll need to send in form again. And don’t delay–deadlines apply.

The FWAB is a ballot, so please follow the instructions carefully and be aware of the deadline to submit your ballot. The deadline information for your state will be in the Instructions that print out with your completed FWAB. Please be sure to allow enough time for your FWAB to get back to the US by the deadline.

Submitting a FWAB (or back-up ballot) can be confusing, so we’ve set up a helpdesk at:
Votefromabroadcr@gmail.com Send in your questions and help will be on its way

In person help will be available on September 29th at Tin Ho from 10 am – noon and 2:30 – 4:30. There you’ll be able to:

  • You can register & request a ballot.
  • Fill out a FWAB (back-up ballot) if you haven’t received yours.
  • You can drop off your ballot for the Embassy pouch.
  • You can receive on the spot help to email or fax your ballot to your Local Election Office.

This article was sponsored by www.votefromabroad.org.

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