Expats from the United States need to request absentee ballots soon if they want to be able to vote in this year’s hotly contested presidential election.

U.S. citizens living abroad, whether temporarily or permanently, vote according to their last address in the U.S. The rules vary from state to state on whether overseas residents can vote in local or state races, how ballots can be submitted, and if they need to be postmarked or received by the local election office by election day.

According to Cayman’s Immigration Department, there are almost 1,400 United States citizens in the Cayman Islands on work permits, and more who are in Cayman as permanent residents and status holders who are eligible to vote in November’s election.

The myriad of state rules can be hard to navigate for would-be voters, but the U.S. Federal Voting Assistance Program has a service on its website to help people fill out the right forms and turn them in to the appropriate state or county election office.

There were 2.6 million potential U.S. voters living overseas in 2014, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program. The 2014 study found that only 4 percent of eligible overseas voters cast ballots in 2014, a mid-term election without a high-profile presidential race to draw voters.

Of the U.S. expats who did not vote, 30 percent said they had problems related to absentee voting, almost a quarter said they “felt out of touch with their national or local community,” and 12 percent had no preferred candidate, according to the 214 Overseas Citizen Population Survey.

All states now allow U.S. citizens living overseas and military personnel deployed abroad to vote through email or secure online systems, but can still use traditional mail to send ballots back to the elections office. In a recent press release, the Federal Voting Assistance Program noted, “The media often will report the projected outcome of an election before all of the ballots are counted. In a close election, the media may report the preliminary results or say that the outcome cannot be announced until after the absentee ballots are counted. However, all ballots, including absentee ballots, are counted in the official totals for every election – and every vote (absentee or in-person) counts the same.”

Absentee ballots are typically the last votes counted in an election, but can be the deciding factor in very close races.

U.S. citizens who want to request an absentee ballot can find more information at www.fvap.gov.

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