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Top 10 Misconceptions about Voting in U.S. Elections from Abroad

truth meter pointing away from myths toward facts

Too often, U.S. citizens abroad don't vote because they have one issue or question that is standing between them and the simple act of requesting their overseas absentee ballot.

First-time voting for U.S. citizens who live temporarily or permanently abroad is not well understood. It can seem daunting for those who haven't previously taken advantage of their overseas voting rights and lack details about how it works. Couple that with the natural human habit of filling in gaps of knowledge with assumptions, we can end up with ideas that amount to nothing short of imagined barriers to overseas voting. 

The assumptions made about the rules of overseas voting are so often just plain wrong. We call them “Overseas Voting Myths.” They are myths and misconceptions that are actually fabricated barriers to voting.

At Overseas Vote and our parent, U.S. Vote Foundation, our legacy is overseas and military voting. We often remark on this tendency of voters to use these misconceptions to keep themselves from voting. Overseas voting is challenging enough without creating even more imaginary problems! But we know, this tendency simply reflects the missing knowledge that voters need. We are here to help!

It’s time to set the record straight. Read on to fill in the gaps and correct false assumptions with facts! 


Myth 1:  As a U.S. citizen living abroad, I can’t vote.

Not True! 

Here's the Truth: You can (and should!) vote. As a U.S. citizen living abroad, you have a right to vote in federal elections (choosing the U.S. President and Members of the U.S. Congress). If you are temporarily abroad, you may also vote in state elections (depending on the state, choosing your state’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, General Assembly, Attorney General, Auditor General, and State Treasurer). 

You maintain your voting rights even if you are overseas temporarily during the elections. For instance, you can request your overseas ballot if you’re studying abroad or working on a work assignment. Furthermore, as an active member of the military stationed abroad, you and your accompanying family have a right to vote! So, if you’re a U.S. citizen and you will be 18 years or older on Election Day, register and request your overseas ballot TODAY!

Myth 2:  I can’t vote from overseas as a first-time voter.


Get the Truth: As a U.S. citizen living abroad, it doesn’t matter whether you are a first-time voter or not, you can participate. You may be 19 or 95 years old and never have voted in domestically or abroad, but you can still register and request your ballot for the first time as an overseas voter. There is no limitation. [Learn More]

If you have never lived in the U.S. because you were born abroad and have acquired your citizenship by birth (through your parent(s) who is a U.S. citizen(s)), you can (and should) register, if your state allows it as most of them do. Use your parent(s)’ address to register to vote in the federal elections. 

Myth 3:  I must live abroad permanently to vote from abroad.

Not True! 

What is True: If you’re living abroad temporarily (studying abroad, traveling, working, etc), you can vote. Just register and request your overseas ballot and indicate your temporary address. You can choose to have your ballot mailed to you or to receive it online. It's that easy. Once you’re back in the United States, you can re-register to change your status back to that of a domestic voter. [Learn More]

Myth 4:  I must own property or have a current mailing address in the U.S.A.


The Truth: As a U.S. citizen living abroad, there is absolutely no requirement to own property or maintain a permanent residence or mailing address in the U.S. If you are voting from abroad, no mail will be sent to a U.S. address. [Learn More]

Myth 5: If I vote abroad, the IRS will contact me.


Here's the Truth: The federal program to register to vote and request your ballot from abroad allows you to vote for federal offices - U.S. President, Vice President, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives without concern about tax implications. Please see more on our FAQ about "Will Voting from Abroad Affect my Tax Status."


Myth 6: I can ask my friend or a relative to mail my overseas voting ballot from the U.S.


Get the Truth: Mailing an overseas ballot from U.S. soil will invalidate it. Completed overseas absentee ballots should be returned to your election office from the country where you live as an overseas voter. Giving your ballot to your friend or a relative who travels to the United States to mail the ballot from there will likely end up in it not being counted. [Learn more]

Myth 7: I have to notarize my voting ballot when I vote from overseas.


The Truth: No state has a requirement that you must notarize your voted ballot prior to returning it. The Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009 mandated that no state can require you to notarize your overseas absentee ballot. [Learn More]

Myth 8: I can choose a state where I vote.

Not True! 

(Oh Dear... )You Need the Truth: As a U.S. citizen voting from overseas, you can’t choose a state where you’ll vote while abroad. The state where you’ll vote is the state of your last residence in the United States. It should be the address of where you truly last lived and intended to make a home, not a temporary stay for a visit on your way overseas. Your voting residence is not the address of a friend or relative, nor is it a mailing address, unless that is also where you last truly lived and made a home and where you moved from when you left the country. Put plainly, the state you lived in before you moved, is the state you will vote in while you’re abroad. [Learn More]

Myth 9: My overseas vote will not be counted.


Here is the Truth: You might be confused on this point because election results are often announced before the official ballot count is final. There is a mathematical reason for that. [Learn More] All ballots must be counted, and accounted for, in order for the election results to be officially certified. Overseas and military ballots are no exception to this. It is the law. Every vote counts, no matter where it comes from, domestic or abroad. 


Myth 10: My vote from overseas doesn’t make a difference.

Don't Buy That!

The Truth: Every vote counts, and in tight races, your vote has more weight. In the 2020 Presidential election, the state of Georgia was decided with just 11,779 votes. Four million nine hundred thirty-five thousand four hundred eighty-seven votes were cast in Georgia. The margin represented a mere 0.3% difference between the candidates. Furthermore, in Arizona, 11 electoral votes were awarded the winner by just 10,457 votes.  

Every vote not cast is lost, which gives every vote cast more weight. Every vote cast from overseas is counted and makes a difference in a tight race. It might even decide a race. 

Register and Request Your Overseas Ballot Today!

Voting from overseas might be confusing and challenging, but we’re here to help you. U.S. Vote Foundation and our Overseas Vote initiative are is nonpartisan, nonprofit public charity focused on helping U.S. citizens to exercise their voting rights. We look forward to working with you to exercise your overseas voting opportunity with ease and joy. 

See Our Dynamic Myths vs. Facts Page

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