How to Return Your Ballot

*Overseas voters have different ways to return their ballots, depending on the laws of their voting state.

READ YOUR BALLOT INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY!

If you don’t have your ballot yet, you can check your state’s “Delivery Methods - Ballot Return” at www.votefromabroad.org/states

IF YOUR STATE ALLOWS IT, WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU RETURN YOUR BALLOT ELECTRONICALLY (BY EMAIL, FAX, OR ONLINE UPLOAD). -- Click to expand

More than half of all states now allow overseas voters to return their ballots electronically. This may be a safer way to ensure your ballot is counted than postal mail as you don’t have to worry that it may get lost or delayed in transit.

When you return your ballot electronically, you print out your ballot (if you received it electronically), mark it and return it as an email attachment, fax or online upload. You keep a copy of your marked ballot, so there is always a paper trail.

This is very different from “electronic voting,” which has widely reported security concerns. With electronic voting, voters at in-person polling places submit their vote using a computer system that holds a large cache of votes and which may be vulnerable to inaccuracies as well as the more remote risk of outside manipulation. And if there’s no paper receipt provided, the voter has no way to know that their vote was properly recorded and counted.


HOW TO RETURN YOUR BALLOT ELECTRONICALLY:

I. BY EMAIL -- Click to expand
  1. Photograph or scan your marked ballot and any required materials. (See your ballot instructions.) You will need to sign a waiver of your right to a secret ballot as your ballot will not be sealed when you send it in.
  2. Send the materials to your Local Election Office as an email attachment.
  3. Your Local Election Official will separate your identifying information from your vote as soon as possible. Your ballot won’t be sealed, but no one should be able to see how you voted.
II. BY FAX -- Click to expand

These states allow overseas voters to return ballots by Fax or Mail, but not Email: AK, CA, FL, LA, and OK

  1. Use a fax machine (many printers also work as fax machines) to submit your marked ballot and any required materials. (See your ballot instructions.) You will need to sign a waiver of your right to a secret ballot as your ballot will not be sealed when you send in.
  2. Your state will usually provide a coversheet but if one isn’t provided, be sure to include your won. You can download the FVAP fax transmission coversheet at www.fvap.gov/eo/overview/materials/forms (scroll to the bottom of that page).
  3. Your Local Election Official will separate your identifying information from your vote as soon as possible. Your ballot won’t be sealed, but no one should be able to see how you voted.
BY FAX--When You Don’t Have Access to a Fax Machine:--Click to expand

1. Look for a public fax machine. You can search for “fax machine near me” for businesses that will send a fax for a fee.

You may be able to find a fax machine at a business supply or copy shop, a notary or realtor, or even a friend’s office.

2. Use an email-to-fax service. This allows you to use your cell phone camera or a scanner to upload your ballot and supporting documents as email attachments, which are then converted to fax documents and forwarded to your election official.

There are several commercial services available, usually with free as well as inexpensive paid options. You can search online for Internet based services, some of which are HelloFax, FaxZero, eFax, or FaxPlus.

Or you can use a cellphone fax app. Search for “fax app for Android/iPhone” on application platforms like Apple’s App Store, Google Play Store, Galaxie Store, etc. CocoFax, RingCentral, and GeniusFax are among the better known, but there are lots to choose from.

3. Use the Fax service through the Federal Voting Assistance Program FVAP.gov.

UPDATE OCT 30, 2020: FVAP is currently reporting a 24 hour delay for sending out faxes. We advise voters to use a different fax method and not to use the FVAP service after Sunday, Nov 1.

Don’t wait until the last minute when using the FVAP fax service! The service can get overloaded and FVAP does not guarantee that your voted ballot will be faxed to your Local Election Official by the deadline. After October 27th, we advise you use a different fax method, if possible.

a. Photograph or scan in your ballot and any required materials as an email attachment. You must include the FVAP fax transmission coversheet at www.fvap.gov/eo/overview/materials/forms (scroll to the bottom of that page).

b. Send the email attachment of your ballot materials, WITH coversheet, to fax@fvap.gov

c. FVAP will print out the email attachment and use a fax machine to fax your ballot and other election materials to your Local Election Official.

III. ONLINE UPLOAD --Click to expand
  1. Your state will send you a secure link to transmit materials between your computer and their system.
  2. You will need to photograph or scan in your ballot and any required materials, then upload it to your computer.
  3. Follow the instructions to transmit the materials over the link to your state.

HOW TO RETURN YOUR BALLOT BY MAIL:

If your state requires you to return your ballot by mail–or you choose to do so–always follow the instructions provided with your ballot.

The points below are provided for guidance only.
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I. BY POSTAL MAIL --Click to expand

When mailing back your ballot, it usually requires two separate envelopes: a “Ballot Envelope” and a “Mailing Envelope”. This is done to maintain a secret ballot.

  1. Ballot Envelope: Place your voted ballot in an envelope and seal it. Some states will instruct you to label it as a “Security Envelope” but others will instruct you not to mark it in any way. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS PROVIDED BY YOUR STATE!

  2. Mailing Envelope: Then place the sealed ballot envelope AND any required materials, such as your signed and dated voter information declaration, inside a larger “mailing envelope.”

    a. If not pre-printed for you, write out the mailing address for your election office.

    b. Write your return address (outside the US).

    c. Provide any other information required. For example, some states require you to sign the outside of the mailing envelope.

    d. Place sufficient postage to mail to the US.

  3. When your mailed ballot arrives, your Local Election Official will be able to verify you’re an eligible voter, but will not be able to see your sealed ballot. Once your voter status is verified, your still-sealed ballot will be separated from your identifying information before it is opened and tallied.

II. COURIER (INTERNATIONAL EXPRESS MAIL SERVICE) --Click to expand

States will accept overseas ballots via courier, that is, international express mail service providers, such as DHL, UPS, FedEx.

This may also be the only mailing solution if you live in a country with suspended mail service. (Click here for the US Postal Service website list of countries with suspended service).

  1. You will need to place your SEALED MAILING ENVELOPE in the courier envelope. You MUST follow your state’s instructions for how to place your ballot in a separate sealed envelope inside the mailing envelope. (See above re: ballot envelope and mailing envelope).

  2. More than one ballot may be placed in the courier envelope if they are all going to the same Election Office. If more than one ballot mailing envelope is enclosed in the courier envelope, each must be separately sealed. (You can think of the courier envelope as acting like a mailbox.)

    CHECK YOUR INSTRUCTIONS! Some states only allow voters who have the same US voting address to use the same courier envelope.

  3. Most couriers do not deliver to a P.O. Box. If necessary, contact your election office for a street address. The contact information should be on your ballot instructions, or you can find the contact information here at: www.votefromabroad.org/states

  4. Some states will accept overseas ballots that arrive after Election Day if the ballot is sent by Election Day. If you vote in one of these states and your ballot might arrive after Election Day, make sure the courier will indicate on the package the date they received it from you. It doesn’t have to be an official ‘postmark,’ just something that shows you election office that you placed your ballot with the courier by Election Day. It won’t be necessary if your ballot arrives by Election Day–but if your ballot arrives after Election Day, you will need to show it was sent by Election Day.

  5. It’s a good idea to request tracking to make sure your ballot arrives in time. But we recommend that you don’t send the courier envelope “signature required.” Many Election Offices are not prepared to sign for packages and your ballot may be delayed or even sent back.

  6. Some couriers may provide a discount for returning ballots. Be sure to ask!

III. US DIPLOMATIC POUCH --Click to expand

The US Embassy or Consulate will allow US citizens to drop off ballots for delivery to the US in the diplomatic mail pouch. Any US citizen may use this service, you don’t need to have a connection to the Embassy. This method is free, but can be extremely slow, so plan ahead!

  1. You are NOT voting at the Embassy/Consulate. Instead, your ballot will be sent to the US in the diplomatic mail pouch. Once it reaches the US, your ballot will be placed in the US postal system for mailing to your Election Office.
  2. Your ballot must be delivered to your Election Office by your state’s deadline to be counted. Dropping your ballot off at the Embassy/Consulate is not a guarantee that the ballot will be delivered to your Election Office by the deadline.
  3. The use of the diplomatic pouch is free, but your ballot must have sufficient US postage as it will be placed in the US mail. Your ballot must be in a properly sealed Mailing Envelope (see above) with either sufficient US postage or a US postage-paid mailing template, which you can download here
  4. INQUIRE EARLY! Check the Embassy or Consulate website (or call or email to inquire) as there may be restrictions on when your Emassy or Consulate will accept voted ballots. And the time lag to the US can be significant! Many Embassies or Consulates stop accepting ballots a month before an election. And many are estimating delayed delivery times of several weeks or even up to a couple of months.

If you have questions, please ask our Voter Help Desk (the orange circle on the bottom right of the screen on www.votefromabroad.org) or email us at helpdesk@votefromabroad.org.

Or drop by for live one-to-one voter assistance via Zoom. For more information for dates and times, please click the link: Global Voter Assistance (Live via Zoom).