By Debbie Gregory.
November may seem like it’s a ways off, but election day will be here before you know it. The freedom to choose our leaders is an integral part of our democracy, the American way of life, and something those who wear our country’s uniform have always fought to defend.
If you are a new voter, have recently moved, or are deployed overseas, there are steps you can take to make sure your vote is counted.
One of the easiest ways to vote is by absentee ballot. Every installation or unit has a voting assistance officer (VAO), responsible for providing information and helping service members and their families get any materials they need in order to file an absentee ballot in state and federal elections. You can find out who your VAO is from your personnel administration office.
Voters must establish state residency. Each state has different requirements for establishing residency, and some states have no time requirement for residency. For states that do have a residency requirement, thirty days is the maximum length of time that a state can require you to live there before you can register to vote.
Establishing residency means that you have taken steps to indicate your intent to live in that state. If you’ve paid local taxes, registered a car, received a driver’s license, or voted in a state, you’ve probably proved that you’ve been physically present in that state and that you intend to return.
To assist active duty military members with the voting process, the Federal Voting Assistance Program further explains residency requirements, voting instructions, and deadlines for each state, whether you are voting within the U.S. or from another country.
Most states will only accept ballots by mail only. That means that overseas voters must get their ballots in the mail weeks before an election. Make sure you know the date of the election. You can visit the FVAP web site to learn the dates of your state’s primaries. The federal election occurs on the Tuesday immediately after the first Monday in November (this does not necessarily mean the “first Tuesday” in a month because the first day of a month can be a Tuesday). The earliest possible date is November 2, and the latest possible date is November 8, as it will be for the 2016 election.
In most cases, one application will register you to vote as well as to apply to receive a ballot. You can fill out the SF 76 Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) that you receive from your VAO, or the online version (OFPCA) that you download from the FVAP website.