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US election countdown: six reasons to get your absentee ballot now

The countdown to the 2020 US election on Tuesday November 3rd has begun. Around three million Americans abroad are eligible to vote.

US election countdown: six reasons to get your absentee ballot now
Photos: Getty Images

We asked The Local’s American readers about the process of voting by absentee ballot. Many told us it’s easy once you try – and some have been voting from abroad for decades. Others remarked on differences between state rules or response times.

One thing is clear: the earlier you request and return your ballot, the better. Here, in partnership with the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), we look at six reasons to get your absentee ballot as early as possible if you want to make your voice heard.

One vote in only two steps

Step one: You register to vote and request your absentee ballot using one form: the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). Once, you’ve done that, send it to your election office as soon as possible. Using the FPCA, ensures your state will send you your ballot at least 45 days before the election – a protection not guaranteed with other forms. 

Step two: make your voting choice and send back your ballot. You’re advised to do this as soon as you receive the ballot – which should be by early October. The recommended vote-by-date from abroad – to allow for any mail delays – is October 13. But why leave it to the last minute? 

Request your absentee ballot now and get state-specific instructions on how to return it

Be an early bird with email

From the ‘Sunshine State’ of Florida to the Arctic chill of Alaska, every state allows you to receive your absentee ballot by email – just choose this option when filling out the FPCA. Your state may also allow you to email your FPCA to them – you can find that out right after filling it out. It’s also worth checking the options in your state to see if you can return your ballot electronically. 

Mike August voted absentee for California in 2016 while living in Paris. “It went pretty smoothly,” he said. “We chose the emailed ballot option to avoid mail delays; we got confirmation of receipt soon thereafter.”

If you plan to mail your ballot this year, FVAP recommends contacting your local post office about possible delivery delays due to Covid-19 (more information can be found here and updates from the United States Postal Service on international disruptions here). 

Vote from anywhere!

Americans can be found in all parts of the world. But as a US citizen, you can request your ballot be sent anywhere – so your location is no excuse not to vote! 

Canada has the most eligible US voters abroad with more than 600,000 in 2016. In Europe, the UK has the most, followed by France, Germany and Italy (you can scroll over and zoom in on the map below for more details). After sending in your ballot, you can check its status at FVAP.gov to see when your election office receives it.

 
Sarah Mullin, who lives in Rennes in northwest France, told us she has voted by absentee ballot for over 20 years from South Africa, Canada and now France – all “with no problems whatsoever”.

Are you an American abroad? Start filling out your FPCA now – and choose to receive your ballot by email

Use online help 

Find form-filling tiresome or confusing? Don’t worry. There's no need to put it off. On FVAP.gov, you can use an online assistant to help you fill out the FPCA – and have you ready to sign it and send it off in no time.

All the information you need on where and how to send in your form by mail, email or fax – depending on what your state allows – will be provided.

Simple residence rules 

Not sure about your voting residence (the US state or territory where you register to vote)? Don't let that slow you down either. It’s likely to be your legal residence in the US or the US address where you last resided. 

You can find further information on working out your voting residence here. In future, it’s best to send in a new FPCA every January – and whenever you move home. 

There’s even a back-up ballot …

One final reason to request your ballot early is so you'll know where you stand and whether you may need to use a back-up. If you've already requested your ballot but haven’t received it, you can contact your election office for information about your ballot’s status. Even if you don’t receive it in time to meet your state’s deadline, you can still vote. 

Just use a FWAB! That’s a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. A few states may even allow you to use a FWAB even if you hadn’t already requested a regular ballot.

If you are an American abroad, you can request your absentee ballot via email on FVAP.gov now and find out everything you need to know about voting

 

 

 

 

 
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TRAVEL

US reclassifies Switzerland: What does it mean for American travellers?

America’s public health agency eased travel alerts for dozens of countries this week, including Switzerland. But does it mean that people from the United States can now travel here?

US reclassifies Switzerland: What does it mean for American travellers?
Not yet, but hopefully soon. Photo by Jan Rosolino / Unsplash

Switzerland in early June announced vaccinated travellers would be able to come on June 28th. Therefore, this story is now out of date. Please click here for more information. 

Due to massive vaccination efforts around the world, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lowered travel warning levels  for more than 110 countries and destinations, including Switzerland.

From the highest level four previously, which means all travel is discouraged, Switzerland was ‘promoted’ to Level 3, allowing travel for fully vaccinated individuals.

In total, 14 countries, including Switzerland’s neighbours France and Italy, have been reclassified to a lower level.

Does this mean American tourists can now come to Switzerland?

Even though the CDC has cleared travel for vaccinated US residents, it doesn’t mean they are now allowed to enter Switzerland.

For the time being, travel ban is still in place for most third countries, including the United States. The only exceptions are Swiss citizens or permanent residents returning to Switzerland.

READ MORE: When will Americans be allowed to travel to Switzerland again —and vice-versa?

There are some other exemptions as well, including people whose presence in Switzerland is absolutely necessary to maintain the functioning of the healthcare system or public security and order, death of a close family member in Switzerland, and to continue essential medical treatment that began in Switzerland or abroad.

Each of these conditions must be proven with official documentation.

For other ‘special necessity’ rules, see SEM’s page.

Basically, this means that tourists or other random travellers can’t come to Switzerland at the moment.

There are, however, some promising signs that this restriction may be lifted.

Swiss president Guy Parmelin is scheduled to meet with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, on June 15th. Biden will be in Geneva for high-level talks with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. 

It is not known what Switzerland and the United States will discuss at the meeting, beyond matters of importance to both nations, but there is a possibility that the subject of easing travel restrictions on both sides will be raised.

Also, under France’s new traffic light travel system, fully-vaccinated travellers can now enter France from non-EU countries, including the US.

This does not apply to Switzerland yet, but as the two countries share a border and both are part of the Schengen zone, Swiss entry regulations for US tourists might be relaxed in the near future — though not at this time.

Does this mean US residents can ‘slip’ into Switzerland through France?

Borders between the two countries are pretty porous and checks random at best, but if you attempt to get into Switzerland this way, you’d be breaking the law.

The only US citizens who can come into Switzerland legally right now are those residing in the EU/EFTA states, or one of the third nations deemed safe by public health officials:  Australia, New Zealand, Cyprus, Rwanda, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand.

In other words, it’s not the nationality of a traveller that counts but their place of residence.

What about Swiss citizens going on vacation to the United States?

The US still has a ban in place for tourists from the EU, including Switzerland. It also has similar exceptions — that is, US citizens and permanent residents returning from abroad.

The US is forming expert groups to decide when to lift global travel restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.

However, this will probably take time and, despite mounting pressure from the travel industry and airlines, US-bound travel may not be on the horizon for this summer.

READ MORE: How to get Switzerland’s Covid-19 health pass

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