Like studying abroad, voting is an invaluable learning experience. If you’re a student planning on being abroad in November, you have a right to vote on or before Election Day. All you have to do is fill out an absentee ballot.

There’s a common misconception absentee votes aren’t counted unless the results of the election are too close to call otherwise. In reality, all votes are counted, including absentee votes, although they may be counted a few days after the election takes place. Since every vote counts, all students 18 years old or older should plan on exercising their rights to vote no matter where in the world they are.

Voting absentee is easier now than it ever has been. The United States Department of State website has a comprehensive tip sheet for voters away from home.

Here are a few basic pointers:

Save yourself the trouble and do it early

The majority of states will allow residents to vote before the actual election takes place – no excuses required. If you live in one of 37 states who allow prevotes, you may be able to vote before departure. This also depends on how long your state’s early voting window lasts, anywhere between four and 45 days in advance of Election Day.

Some states don’t offer early voting as an option. That’s where an absentee ballot comes in handy. Absentee ballots allow voters to pick their candidates from wherever in the world they are. Different states have different rules about absentee voting, also.

Be prepared

The good news is now, anyone can apply for an absentee ballot electronically – with some ample preparation. Simply visit https://www.fvap.gov/, complete a Federal Post Card Application, print it, sign it and return it to your local election office. Voters who know they’re going to be abroad during election time are usually recommended to complete this application in January of every year they’re abroad to make sure they get their ballots on time. They usually arrive 45 days before the standard November general and mid-term elections and 30 days before special, primary and runoff elections for federal offices. 

Depending on what state you live in, you’ll receive your ballot electronically or in the mail at the address you specified in your application. This is just one more instance when knowing your state’s individual voting rules is essential.

Get that vote back home

Once you get your hands (or mouse) on your ballot, complete it as carefully and as soon as you can. There are a number of options for getting your vote back home to your local elections office:

  1. Use the local mail – if you have a good, reliable service to the U.S.
  2. Use an express courier service – if you do not have a good, reliable mail system or you’re short on time.
  3. Drop it off at your friendly neighborhood U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Make sure it’s addressed to your local office back home and has sufficient postage to get there.
  4. Fax it, email it or complete it online depending on your state’s options.

Always check your state’s voting laws and make sure you know whether or not you can vote early, whether or not you have to offer an excuse for your absence and when your state’s absentee ballot request deadline is.

Participate
As an adult United States citizen you have the right to vote.  This right is a right citizens of Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands or the U.S. Virgin Islands do not have.   Execute your plan now so you can exercise your right to vote.