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Many people have called this presidential election the most important in American history, and it’s true. Not only are Americans voting for people, political parties, or even ideas, but for the future of our country and the long-term health of our planet.

To my fellow Americans abroad – it is overwhelming and scary to think about how consequential this election is. But it is our right and responsibility as citizens to vote, and it is one of the strongest ways to create the future we want for our country. As Americans in Scotland, voting from abroad can be confusing, but I’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

1: Are you registered?

Firstly, you have to register to vote, or check that you are registered. To do this, go to Vote.gov. If you think you are already registered and set to receive an Absentee Ballot, double check to make sure your address is updated. Many of us move flats every year in St Andrews, and it is easy to forget to update our addresses (no matter how many times our families ask us to send them our new one), but it can mean the difference between receiving your ballot and not voting.

2: How do I fill my ballot out?

Yay, now you have your ballot! You may be ready to fill out your ballot as soon as you have it, but there are rules on how to fill it out. If you have ever taken a standardized test in school, you’re familiar with Scantron sheets. Remember how proctors would remind you to use blue or black ink and fill in each option you choose darkly and completely, without straying outside of the bubble? It’s exactly like that. No stray marks or spills allowed, and because it’s an Absentee Ballot, you only get one — so make sure you are filling out your ballot in a clean space where nothing is going to touch it.

While so much of the conversation in the media has been about the national election, your state and local representatives matter a lot too, so do some research! While you may find little information on some of them, Ballotpedia is a hub of information on the national election along with local and state elections. If you want to know the voting records of your representatives in the House and senators who are up for re-election, you can go to the House of Representatives website and the Senate website.

Fill your ballot out carefully and preferably in one sitting. You don’t want to accidentally fill in two options for one category or leave it in a place where something could happen to it, so take your time.

3: How do I send it back?

When you receive your ballot, you might be given a “secrecy sleeve”. This was created to prevent poll workers from seeing how you vote, and gives you instructions on how to fill out your ballot and send it back. As arbitrary as it seems, don’t skip this step because states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey might reject your ballot if it’s not in the sleeve.

If you received a secrecy sleeve, put your ballot in it and then put it in the outer envelope your ballot came with. If you did not receive a secrecy sleeve, put your ballot in the envelope and sign it. If you have to sign your name multiple times on the secrecy ballot and the envelope, try to make them as identical as possible. Some states can reject your ballot if the signatures are not identical enough. Double check to make sure you did everything correctly, and then you’re ready to send your ballot back! You can stop by the post office on South Street and drop it off. Make sure to send it back soon after you finish so it can get back to the States in plenty of time. 

4: What now?

Now that your ballot is on its way back to the States, you can relax, because the hard part is done! Many states offer a ballot tracking system, so you can check to see when it has arrived. There are a few websites you can use to track your ballot, but your safest bet is to check your state or district’s election website.

Voting is stressful. Voting from abroad in 2020 is extremely stressful. But you’re not doing it alone — everyone voting from abroad is feeling the same anxiety, whether it’s their first time doing it or their tenth. Luckily, there are many resources to make the process as smooth as possible and when you’re done, you can show off your “I Voted” sticker just like if you had voted at home.


MacKenZie was raised in Florida and is currently a final year student at the University of St Andrews, studying Art History and Middle East Studies. When she isn't writing for Her Campus, she can be found photographing, writing or editing for other on-campus societies, scouring bookstores or getting a chai latte.
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