Voting as a military family during a global pandemic
Voting in this year’s election looks very different than in elections past. For many military families, we’re watching the rest of the country scramble to figure out how to vote the way we’ve been voting for years! Whether you’re new to voting as a military-connected person or trying to figure out how the pandemic might affect how you cast your vote, we’ll connect you to the information and resources you need here.
For our National Guard/Reserve, veteran, and retired families
Your voting process is the same as it is for civilian families across the country. (And trust us, it’s as confusing for them as it is for us this year!) You vote in the district where you live.
Key deadlines and voting instructions will vary from state to state. For example, in New Jersey, all registered voters will receive a mail-in ballot. While in-person voting will still be available, locations have changed for where residents are to vote and only paper ballots will be used (with accommodations made for individuals with disabilities who are unable to use a write-in ballot.) If using your mail-in ballot (which you are highly encouraged to do), paper ballots can be mailed via the U.S. Postal Service or dropped off in designated ballot boxes that are monitored by camera and emptied daily.
As another example, in Texas, polling sites will be open, but their locations will not be disclosed until a few days before Election Day. Military and overseas voters are welcome to use the regular registration and early voting by mail process available to all voters away from their home county on Election Day. But they note that for those voters using a federal postcard application (we discuss more below), that will be treated as a request for permanent registration.
Every state will have its own processes, rules, and requirements. If you don’t live in New Jersey or Texas (and even if you do but want more information) you can find your state’s voting information and deadlines at Vote.org’s state election centers. Here you’ll be able to check your registration status, register to vote (if it’s still within your state’s deadline), request an absentee ballot (if you live in a state that hasn’t automatically sent mail-in ballots to all registered voters), and find your polling place (which might not be the same place you’re used to voting in previous elections.)
For our overseas active-duty families
You are UOCAVA voters. That acronym simply means that you vote via the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. Under the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE) your “state of legal residence” is required to send you an absentee ballot at least 45 days before federal elections. So you should have your absentee ballot already. If you don’t – no need for alarm. You can complete and submit the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB). The form and instructions are all right here for your convenience.
The recommended overseas mailing day is October 19th. Voters in overseas military installations with access to the military postal system should send voted ballots in now so they arrive in time to be counted. Use the 11-DOD Label to expedite the mail. This label is specifically for use with absentee ballots originating from overseas military postal locations and will allow you to track your vote until it reaches its destination.
For our stateside active-duty families
If you’ve been part of a military family for more than a few minutes, you’ve probably called several places “home.” When you’re voting as a stateside active duty family, you can choose between voting where you live or voting in your state of legal residence. There are arguments to be made for either choice.
Perhaps you want to vote where you live to have a say in your current community. Maybe it’s easier to keep things straight when you’ve got one place to put on all the forms and paperwork. Ultimately, it’s your decision. Keep in mind though that some states may require residency for you to vote there and it’s always a good idea to research any requirements before you make your decision.
If you’re voting locally, reference the section above, For our National Guard/Reserve, veteran, and retired families for additional information on how to vote using normal civilian channels.
If you choose your state of residence, you’ll use the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) that lets you register and request an absentee ballot in one shot. And like your overseas military family counterparts, if you don’t receive your ballot in time, you’ll be able to complete and submit the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB).
Keep in mind that October 23rd is the recommended mailing day for Stateside Uniformed Service members and their families to send voted ballots in to ensure they arrive in time to be counted.
For all of our military families
Regardless of your political views, we can all agree that it’s incredibly important to exercise your right (and responsibility) to vote. And election results, whatever they may be or whatever outcome you hope for, will directly affect your family. Who else gets to vote for who their boss will be? So come November 3rd, make sure that your voice has been counted!
MFAN is committed to being a nonpartisan organization. To find out more, click here.
We know we’ve thrown a lot of acronyms and links to forms your way. If you want additional information, here are a few helpful resources for you.
Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP): A government resource for voting assistance for Service members, their families, and overseas citizens
National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS): The nation’s oldest, nonpartisan professional organization for public officials. The association has key initiatives centered around elections and voting.
Secure Families Initiative: This organization’s mission is to elevate military spouses and family members as uniquely qualified advocates and organizers on matters of foreign policy. A nonpartisan group, it shares helpful information about elections and voting as military families and an overall message about the importance of making our voices heard.
Vote.org: Its mission is to use technology to simplify political engagement, increase voter turnout, and strengthen American democracy.