Skip to main content

Are You an American Abroad Who Wants to Vote? It’s Registration Time

Posted on May 10, 2016

Want to vote by absentee ballot in the upcoming November 2016 general election? If you’re an American living or serving abroad, now is the time to register and request a blank ballot.

But what happens next? Today’s WatchBlog shares what we found when we examined the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program for uniformed and overseas absentee voters.

Military and civilians abroad

Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, DOD is generally responsible for establishing and maintaining a program to help eligible citizens overseas to vote.

And the help is needed. Servicemembers and other American citizens living overseas face a complex, multistep process to vote in a U.S. election. Federal, state, and local governments have to coordinate to make it happen.

Figure 2: Absentee Voting Is a Multistep Process for Military and Overseas Voters

animation of the multi-step process

(Excerpted from GAO-16-378)

The ballot is in the mail

One long-standing problem for overseas voters is the unpredictable delivery of their mailed ballots.

[caption id="attachment_4220" align="alignright" width="300"]

Figure 5: Label 11-DOD

Overseas servicemembers can use Label 11-DOD to send completed absentee ballots via Express Mail service—the fastest mail service offered by the U.S. Postal Service.[/caption]

The Election Assistance Commission estimated that 8,500 of the 146,000 ballots voters submitted through DOD were rejected in 2014.

The primary reason: the ballots arrived too late at local election offices, according to the Election Assistance Commission. Local election offices also rejected ballots for other reasons, such as a voter’s name or address not matching that voter’s registration or because the local election offices didn’t have an absentee ballot registration on file.

To help with these sorts of problems, DOD’s program offers wallet cards, voting guides, and a website to remind people about election dates, requesting ballots, and other key information needed to vote.

However, many people don’t know these resources are available. Surveys and focus groups found that many overseas voters didn’t know their registration deadlines—a key piece of information given how these can vary by state.

Getting help

Starting early can help voters avoid problems. You can find resources and information about the overseas voting process, including state-specific guidelines, on DOD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program website.

We also made multiple recommendations to DOD to improve planning for its voting assistance program. For example, we recommended that the department set time frames for when it would take actions to address long-standing challenges, as well as fully implement certain leading practices into its day-to-day operations.

For more information about the challenges DOD has identified and its plans to address those challenges, check out the full report.

.Comments on GAO’s WatchBlog? Contact


GAO Contacts

GAO 1 Logo
Brenda S. Farrell
Former Director

Related Products

About Watchblog

GAO's mission is to provide Congress with fact-based, nonpartisan information that can help improve federal government performance and ensure accountability for the benefit of the American people. GAO launched its WatchBlog in January, 2014, as part of its continuing effort to reach its audiences—Congress and the American people—where they are currently looking for information.

The blog format allows GAO to provide a little more context about its work than it can offer on its other social media platforms. Posts will tie GAO work to current events and the news; show how GAO’s work is affecting agencies or legislation; highlight reports, testimonies, and issue areas where GAO does work; and provide information about GAO itself, among other things.

Please send any feedback on GAO's WatchBlog to