How to vote while cruising overseas

“It’s just too hard,” the cruiser complained. It was the fall of 2016, and we were in a conversation about how to vote in the USA’s pending election. It’s not too hard! But it does benefit from a little bit of research and planning. I’m here to shortcut that research, so you can be prepared to vote after casting off to cruise.

Right now is an excellent time to plan ahead for our presidential election in the November. Electronic means of providing election materials to overseas and military voters became mandatory with the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act. Cool, huh? If you’re thinking back to the old days of a paper ballot was sent out to you, times have changed – in favor of helping cruisers vote!

watching humpbacks next to Totem this week: wee baby dorsal, and big mama dorsal

Are you currently registered to vote? If so, start by contacting your home county. Even for federal elections, all voting is local: your county will have a process to accommodate absentee and overseas voters.

Not sure if you’re registered to vote? The tools on make it easy to check your status (and register). Take heart: your county may even have more lenient registration deadlines for you as an overseas voter!

Don’t have an address? Don’t assume this is a problem! This was at the root of “it’s too hard” in the opening paragraph conversation previously, but it’s not an obstacle. In fact, not a single state requires a traditional residence/mailing address. Not one. Generally intended to make it easier for homeless humans to vote, it’s useful for cruisers too. If your home district isn’t connecting the dots for you, contact Overseas Vote foundation, and ask for help.

Haven’t been registered in years and not sure where to start? For some cruisers, it’s been a while since you were ‘home.’ You might not even have a place back in the USA you can claim as home. That doesn’t mean you can’t register and vote! Another good time to contact the Overseas Vote foundation. The wonderful humans who staff this nonprofit are exceptionally helpful: they can guide you to become a registered voter based on a prior residence, even if it’s been many years.

Jamie leading a splicing seminar last week: more coming! See our Events page.

Here’s how voting looks on Totem. Our home state, Washington, has primary elections in early March. We vote in Kitsap County; our process started with this email.

If you use my first name in public, you owe me a drink.

I’m able to access my ballot online, complete it online, and submit it online. I have to print, sign, and scan it to attach to an email that’s sent to the county auditor. These are easily managed with our printer/scanner. We have a biggish flatbed; it’s handy, but a compact printer and a scanner app on a smartphone would work well too.

Pick and tick.

The last step is to mail a printed/signed ballot. This is required by most states, and is the only sorta tricky part since we may not always be in a place to readily mail a ballot. But we also don’t need to have that in until long after the election. For example, Washington’s primary is on March 10; the ballot doesn’t have to be received until March 19.

Does voting matter?

In 2017, a Virginia House of Delegates race ended with an equal number of votes. in a tie after recount. The winner was drawn “by lot” per the state constitution: names within film canisters, placed in a bowl; the result changed the balance of party control. Many state races determined by a tiny percentage. Florida’s impact on the Presidential election in 2000. Yes, it matters!

More Tips

Embassies, consulates, and US government representative offices may information to help you vote, and may even accept your ballot to mail. In Australia, the consulate in Sydney (embassy is in Canberra) accepted and sent ballots stateside – saving the cost of international postage.

Struggling to get your ballot? You can print out a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, and use that to vote in Federal elections! Just download and mail per instructions. Information in this video, and at US Vote foundation’s FWAB eligibility page.

Surprise visit this week from Nordhavn’s president Dan Streech, who was “dumbstruck” at all the teens aboard N5020 Noeta. Boat teens are harder to find, but do exist!

As a freshly minted college graduate, my first job was as the token American in a Chinese government ministry office in New York. Most of my coworkers left family behind in Beijing. I’ll never forget demonstrating the process of voting with my absentee ballot in a conference room one afternoon, in view of Lady Liberty! Our constitutional right to vote is for many in the world an unimaginable privilege; I believe we have a responsibility to participate. I’m so grateful for the mechanisms that are making it easier to do that as full-time travelers.

Anchored off Manhattan, September 2016; an unforgettable view

Select resources:

  • simple, straightforward tools to check your registration status or get a ballot
  • Overseas Vote: Nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting military/overseas voters
  • Turbo vote: election date/deadline reminders, help getting registered and absentee ballots
  • Canadian cruisers: excellent, intuitive information available from; extensive information from the Elections Canada website for voting while living abroad are available; see

10 Responses

  1. Very helpful! I just ran through the online process for WA King County and got the pdf form in only 5 minutes of work. The problem for us at times, when cruising in remote areas, is that we wouldn’t be able to access a printer or mail anything – sometimes away from towns for 10+ days.

    But, it looks like you don’t actually have to mail the signature sheet. For King County, under option 1 (emailing it) it does not say you have to mail anything. Perhaps Kitsap is different?

    The other great thing is since it’s a PDF, there’s no need to print it in order to sign. Part of our transition to cruising was going paperless as much as possible. I already use a program like Foxit Reader oftentimes to insert signatures. So I can easily sign the PDF and then email it. Hopefully they count it / accept it.

    1. @Patrick, You beat me to mentioning using Foxit Reader’s signature mechanism. It saves a lot of time and paper. 🙂

    2. Hi Patrick – all voting is local, so although we are both voting in a state primary for Washington – our requirements in Kitsap County differ from yours in King. We can vote online, but the ballot must follow by mail and be received by a certain date. Foxit Reader is a brilliant option for getting signatures in! If you’re following directions, I wouldn’t hope it’s counted – I’d expect it!

  2. I’ve been voting remotely since 2008. I can’t believe how easy they have made it. And I love They were able to help my family members who have been living overseas for almost their entire lives sign up and be counted.

  3. Great article Mar, I mean Behan! Every vote counts, so thank you to all you sailors who make the effort!

  4. Just FYI re a minor complication for California voters. Your ballot must be mailed or FAXED. Not emailed. After trying to fax our ballots and being met by dumbstruck reactions by office supply business employees younger than 50 — who acted as though we were looking for a telex or trying to send a telegram — we learned to fax using an internet program. This (perhaps oddly) meets the requirements of California law. There are programs that allow you to pay per fax rather than buying a monthly fee for service. We haven’t started searching for the service that works best this year so I can’t recommend one in particular, but they are out there if you need them. And yes, Vote!

    1. Ours, too, must be mailed. We can submit our vote online, but the paper ballot must follow and be received by a certain date post-election (this March, it’s nine days later). But being able to fax is brilliant! It’s put you back in the ‘vote from anywhere with internet’ capability, something we don’t have in our district.

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