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Absentee Voting Procedures

January 19, 2011

U.S. Embassy Kigali, Rwanda

Have you Registered and Requested Your Absentee Ballot?

Overseas residents who wish to vote absentee must declare their intentions to their appropriate voting officials each calendar year.  The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) grant U.S. citizens overseas the right to vote in federal elections in the United States.  Federal elections include primaries as well as general and special elections for the President, Vice President, U.S. Senators, and U.S. Representatives to Congress.  The UOCAVA applies only to federal elections.  However, many states have enacted legislation whereby certain categories of citizens residing overseas can vote by absentee ballot for state or local officials.  The same procedures for obtaining ballots are used for both local and federal elections.

The process is straightforward.  You need to submit a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) to the voting officials in the appropriate state in the United States.  Once they have received it and confirmed your registration, they will send you an absentee ballot which you will then fill out and return according to the instructions provided along with the ballot itself.  The Embassy itself does not supply ballots nor can you vote here.

The appropriate state is the state of your "voting residence." A voting residence is the legal residence or domicile in which you could vote if you were present in that state. The rules for determining that state depend on your status overseas.

  • Military and Merchant Marine members, and their spouses and dependents, may register to vote in the domicile (state) that the member claims as his or her residence.
  • Civilian U.S. Government employees overseas, and their spouses and dependents, generally register in the state they claim as their legal residence.
  • Overseas citizens (not affiliated with the U.S. Government) must vote in their last state of residence immediately prior to departure from the United States. This rule applies even if the voter no longer maintains any abode in that state nor has any intention of returning to it.
  • American citizens who have never resided in the United States should apply to the state where their American citizen parent(s) last resided, although they should be aware that not all states will grant such a request. Please refer to the state instructions.

Step One: Obtaining the FPCA:  You may obtain a FPCA in a number of different ways. The easiest way to complete the card is to go to the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website, where an on-line assistant walks you through the process of completing and addressing the form. 

PLEASE NOTE that American Samoa, Guam, and Ohio do not accept the online version of the FPCA.

Step Two: Completing the FPCA:  The form comes with its own set of general instructions.  These are also in the most recent Voting Assistance Guide, which you can find online at http://www.fvap.gov/. The Voting Assistance Guide contains up-to-date requirements for voting in each state, including the dates of the elections and the deadlines for applying for your ballot. A good rule of thumb is to apply at least 45 days before the election to ensure that you get your materials in time to send them back before election day.  Keep in mind that under MOVE, states are now prohibited from rejecting marked ballots based on notarization, paper size or paper weight requirements.  However, witnessing requirements of individual states remain in place. 

Electronic Registration under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act.  States are now required to send out blank absentee ballots electronically, either by email, fax or downloadable link via their state's website.

If you are not currently registered to vote then you need to send in a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) form and indicate in Item 4c how you want your ballot delivered (mail/fax/email).  If you are already registered, and have already sent in FPCAs in past years, you need to send in a new FPCA form this year on which you include your email address (or the email address of a nearby family member or friend), and indicate how you want your blank ballot delivered (mail/fax/email).

If the voter indicates "by email" and the voter's state only allows faxes, local election officials may default to a delivery by mail procedure.  States that opt to post an absentee ballot on the state website may use the email address provided to send access instructions. 

You must explain in Item 6 on the FPCA the options you prefer:

  •  Option 1 - by email (entered in Item 2j)
  •  Option 2 - by fax (or mail, if you don't have fax access)

If you don't provide this information on your FPCA, you will be put on the list to receive your ballots by mail.  Under the MOVE act ballots are mailed out 45 days before election day.

Step Three: Mailing the FPCA:  After you have completed the FPCA, address it to the appropriate city or county office in the United States. The state instructions contain a list of addresses.  If you drop the card off at the Embassy, we can send it for you at no cost. If you are running up against a deadline, check the extract from the Voting Assistance Guide for your state to see if it allows you to fax your request. Keep in mind that you still have to send the FPCA by post; the fax enables you to beat a deadline but it cannot substitute for the signed original.

You should make every effort to send in your completed FPCA so that it reaches your local election officials at least forty-five days before Election Day.  In most cases, this will provide time for election officials to process your request and send you a blank ballot

Step Four: Voting:  If all goes well, your local state officials will register you and send you a ballot which you will fill out and return according to the instructions you are given.  In some cases, local officials may need to contact you in order to confirm your prior residency in the state and your citizenship before they will send you a ballot.  It is important to provide accurate contact information on the FPCA and to explain any unusual circumstances in the space provided. 

If you have not received your ballot and your FPCA was mailed in time to be received by your local election official 45 days prior to the election, you may be eligible to use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) to vote for federal offices (President/Vice President, Senator, and Representative). The FWAB may be used only for general elections and is an emergency backup for voters who expect to be able to use the regular absentee ballot from their state or territory but who did not receive that ballot in time to vote and return it. The FWAB must be received by the local election official no later than the deadline for receipt of regular absentee ballots under state law. The FWAB is to be used to assist those voters who would be disenfranchised through no fault of their own, and is not designed as a replacement for the regular state ballot. You may obtain a FWAB from the Embassy. There is also an online version available at www.fvap.gov . If you receive your ballot after you have submitted the FWAB, you still must submit the ballot. The ballot, and not the FWAB, will be counted. 

You can stay in touch and get Embassy updates by checking the U.S. Embassy Kigali website.  You can also get global updates at the U.S. Department of State's, Bureau of Consular Affairs website where you can find the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Country Specific Information.  If you don't have internet access, we have a call center for updates--1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or outside the U.S. and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except federal holidays). 

If you are going to live in or travel to Rwanda. please take the time to tell us about your trip by enrolling in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program ( STEP - https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/ ).  If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.  It will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency.  You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date.  It is important during enrollment or updating of information to include your current phone number and current email address where you can be reached in case of an emergency. 

The U.S. Embassy Kigali (http://rwanda.usembassy.gov/) is located at 2657 Avenue de la Gendarmerie; the mailing address is B.P. 28, Kigali, Rwanda; tel. [250] (252) 596-400; fax: [250] (252) 596-591.  The consular section's email address is consularkigali@state.gov.  Routine American Citizens Services are available by appointment Tuesdays from 09:00 to 17:00 and Fridays from 09:00 to 12:00, except for U.S. and Rwandan holidays.   

For after-hours emergencies, U.S. citizens should call [250] (078)830-0345 and ask to speak with the duty officer.