Thursday, September 13, 2012

Voting from overseas

Yesterday afternoon, I emailed off my FPCA (Federal Post Card Application), which all US citizens living overseas (temporarily or indefinitely, military or civilian) are required to file in order to vote in the November election. My prompt came, to be honest, from a phone call from a volunteer with Democrats Abroad here in New Zealand.

As a citizen living overseas indefinitely, I only get to vote for Federal offices, and this year for me that means only President/Vice President and US Representative (there's no US Senate race in Illinois this year). I vote using the address I was last registered to vote in the US, the NW side of Chicago (Jan Schakowsky's district—YAY!!).

So, to register, I went to the website of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and on to the page for Military/Overseas Voters. I downloaded the FPCA as a PDF from a link on that page, filled it in, printed it out and signed it. Then, I scanned the signed form and emailed it to the election officials.

Today I received an email reply telling me that my email ballot will be sent by the end of the week. I’ll again print out the ballot, mark it, and mail it back to them. They also send a formal ballot by post, and if I send both back, only the formal ballot is counted.

This year, they’ll also have an “Online ballot access and marking system”:
“With this system, any eligible military/overseas voter with a valid Federal Post Card Application on file with the Chicago Board of Elections will be able to log in to access and mark his or her ballot. After completing this process, the voter then may print out the ballot and the supporting documents to mail the ballot and documents to the Chicago Board of Elections.”
What I don’t get is how this differs from just sending the ballot by email, as they’ve done for many years (the first time I used that system was 2008). Maybe it’s just a way that doesn’t require email. I should know next week, when the service is due to go live.

All of this is done in accordance with Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which require that states must permit absent uniformed military voters and overseas civilian voters to use absentee registration procedures and to vote by absentee ballot in all elections that include one or more federal offices. However, there has been a change requiring that the FVCA must be filed for every federal election cycle—every two years—where before it would be could for four (in some states, longer).

Not every jurisdiction makes it as easy as my old one does—in fact, some states seem to go out of their way to make it difficult for overseas citizens to vote. For many overseas voters, the best way to register to vote is to go to Vote From Abroad—it's from the Democratic Party, but they help everyone, regardless of affiliation.

I know that there are some people who don't think I should be “allowed” to vote because I live overseas, and others who wonder why I'd bother. The answer to both is the same: Voting is my fundamental right as a US citizen, a right that relatives have fought (and some have died) to preserve and protect. To me, not voting dishonours all those who have fought to preserve our democratic rights, including relatives and strangers alike.

While some people may not like HOW I vote, they have no right to tell me NOT to vote. There are some things that simply transcend politics.

Deadlines for overseas Illinois voters: The registration deadlines for ordinary absentee voters (those overseas temporarily): Monday, October 8. The deadline for Illinois voters overseas indefinitely (federal office only ballot): Moday, October 29. Ballots must be postmarked by November 5 and must be received by the Commissioners in Chicago by Tuesday, November 20.

I posted a less detailed version of this on Facebook.

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