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Less than a month left before US Election Day
Time to send in your absentee ballots
by Eric Jackson
If you have not yet registered to vote or ordered your absentee ballot to vote in the November US presidential election, you still have time in some states and in others you do not. Consult the non-partisan Overseas Vote Foundation or Democrats Abroad websites for the specifics of the state where you last lived or maintain legal residency if you find yourself unregistered or not having ordered a ballot, because it may not be too late for you to vote.
If you are registered to vote and you have requested your ballot, the logistical problem is getting your ballot to where it needs to go in time to be counted. That can be a problem because sometimes things take a month or more to get from Panama to the USA (or vice versa) by regular mail. To deal with this problem, the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) has been created by US federal law.
So you ordered your ballot from, say, Michigan, and itís not here? Or maybe you got your ballot from, say, Ohio, but youíre not sure that it will get back to the right clerk in time to be counted?
If you have ordered a ballot and you didnít get it, vote for president, US senator (if there is a race for that office in your state this year) and US representative using the FWAB. Used to be, you had to go to the US Embassy to get the form. Now, however, you are much better off using the Overseas Vote Foundation website to generate and print out your customized Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot --- for one thing, this helps you get the congressional candidatesí names right and helps you to know precisely where to send the ballot. Use the OVFís online machine to generate your ballot.
Fill out your ballot and vote as you please. (This is serious business and Americans face some clear choices, but in one of the races both or all candidates might be totally unworthy, so your spurious vote for ďnone of the aboveĒ or Bullwinkle the Moose would not be counted but it is your right to cast one of those. Letís hope that you are satisfied that you are getting better choices than that.)
To be counted in the USA, a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot must be postmarked from outside the USA. Some of the private courier services can be problematic about this and even the public post offices can neglect this. Make sure your ballot is sent in an envelope with a return address and a postmark.
If you are a US military retiree or the dependent of one of these, you unquestionably have APO mail service privileges and your best bet, until the last few days before the election, is to send in your ballot through the APO at the US Embassy in Clayton. You need to get ballots sent through this post office mailed by October 27.
For $13 you can send your ballot via the Panamanian post office (COTEL, or Correos) Servicio EMS express service. They assure delivery anywhere in the USA within seven days, and usually itís quicker than that.
The Overseas Vote Foundation has an alliance with FedEx, and through the OVF website you can generate a FedExģ Express Air Waybill specifically for ballot return, which ought to take care of the postmark issue. You pay $23 --- a big discount on the usual steep FedEx price --- if the letter you are sending is a ballot. For more about this service go here. To use this FedEx service, you have to get your ballot to FedEx by October 29.
You can send your ballot to the USA via the US Embassyís diplomatic pouch service, but you have to get your ballot to the American Embassy by October 14 to use this service.
(Yes, this reporter is a Democrat and the Democrats and the Overseas Vote Foundation but not the Republicans have been sending information about voting in the November elections to The Panama News. However, there is a chapter of Republicans Abroad here, and they do have a page on their website thatís supposed to help Republicans voting overseas cast their ballots.)
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