“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!
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 vote.org 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
- Vote.org: 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 elections.ca; extensive information from the Elections Canada website for voting while living abroad are available; see elections.ca.