By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Americans living or staying in Brazil should register to vote for the upcoming November elections before September 10th to be safe according to experts (although deadlines are state specific). There are government and private group websites that can help navigation through the voting from abroad process, to help in what may seem complicated at first.
Every citizen living overseas who wants to vote in the upcoming elections needs to register again this year. Even if they have previously registered from abroad or at home, The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, states that they need to re-register this year and again every year they intend to vote if they wish to have their votes placed and counted.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), Vote From Abroad, and Republicans Abroad sites not only help overseas citizens to register but also assist them in requesting and properly filling out ballots. All three sites can quickly and easily answer questions about requirements, regulations and deadlines.
Melissa M. Souza, Chair of Democrats Abroad Brazil says of Vote From Abroad, whose voter registration assistance is non-partisan, “Our process is simple. You register ONLINE – it takes five minutes. Go to www.votefromabroad.org and register there, print and sign your absentee ballot request form, and either e-mail, fax or mail it to your county.”
Souza mentions “county” because the first step for a prospective voter living abroad is to register through their state of legal residence or the state in which they last resided. Requirements for voting eligibility vary state-by-state with some states allowing children of U.S. citizens who are also U.S. citizens themselves but have never lived in the country to register with the state where one of their parents last resided.
Information from the U.S. Consulate General web site explains that there are no requirements for this address to currently be a valid address or residence, for the voter to maintain active ties to the address ( i.e., able to receive mail there), or even for the street to still exist. Local election officials must simply be able to validate, that at the time the voter purportedly lived there, it was an actual address.
Once ballots or Federal Post Card Applications (FPCAs) are received they can be filled out and mailed to the respective voter’s county. Voters may also drop off their ballots at the American Citizen Services unit at the U.S. Consulate to be returned to the U.S. by diplomatic pouch, in addressed, postage paid envelopes. Voters should note that the pouch can take up to three weeks to reach the U.S. so they need to deliver the ballots in plenty of time before the deadline (absentee voting deadlines vary by state).
When asked about her feelings as to why absentee voting is important Melissa M. Souza of Democrats Abroad Brazil said in part, “Voting translates into the way we live our lives. All over the Middle East people are dying at this very moment to have the right to vote. Americans, wherever they are, must cherish and fulfill this sacred right.”
Through the websites, U.S. citizens abroad can exercise their voting rights a little easier and quicker. Representatives for Republicans Abroad where questioned for this article but did not respond by the deadline.