Federal law provides American expatriates with the means for participating in their country’s political processes. It requires states to permit U.S. citizens abroad to register and vote in presidential and congressional elections.

Many states also permit absentee voting in state and local elections. But be warned that voting for state officers in a state with an income tax may make you subject to that tax. This doesn’t apply if you vote only in federal elections.

There are several organizations in Germany that are equipped to assist American voters. These include the embassy and the consulates. Both Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad have chapters here, and many American women’s clubs have trained voter assistance officers.

The procedures are spelled out in the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA). Under it, a vote is provided for private citizens 18 and older as well as military people and federal employees. Specific information on applying for absentee registration and a ballot is contained in the Voting Assistance Guide. It’s available in booklet form at U.S. embassies and consulates, and also can be found on the Internet site of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), www.fvap.gov. Persons in Germany without access to a computer can still contact the FVAP in Washington via the toll-free number 0800-1007428.

Two organizations offer help in registration, voting and other matters: the Overseas Vote Foundation (www.overseasvotefoundation.org) and Vote From Abroad (www.votefromabroad.org). And party-affiliated organizations can also lend a hand: Democrats Abroad (www.democratsabroad.org/ready_to_vote_from_abroad) and Republicans Abroad (www.republicansabroad.de).

You can apply for an absentee ballot by using the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). It’s available at embassies and consulates, and is accepted by all states. Your applications should be sent to your “last state of residence.” This is the last state in which you lived prior to coming overseas, regardless of whether you own property in or have other ties to that state, regardless of whether you ever registered or voted there and regardless of whether you have firm plans to return to that state.

You need to be registered to vote in your last state of residence, and registration requirements vary from state to state. Generally, FPCAs requesting a ballot only should be received by election officials 45 days before the election in order to allow time for processing. Application might have to be made even earlier if the request is for both registration and a ballot. The Guide also tells you the deadlines in each state.

It’s sometimes possible to speed things by sending and receiving voting material by fax, but this sort of thing isn’t universally accepted by states. You can inquire at your embassy or consulate. It sometimes happens that FPCAs get lost in the bureaucracy, but even then there is hope for the dedicated voter. The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot is available at embassies and consulates. You may use it only if three conditions are met:

  • you must be located overseas;
  • you must have applied for a regular absentee ballot early enough so that it should have been received by local election officials at least 30 days before the election; and
  • you must not have received the requested ballot.