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How Americans in Europe can vote in the US primary elections

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
How Americans in Europe can vote in the US primary elections
A US flag flutters in Deauville, northwestern France (Photo by LOU BENOIST / AFP)

As primary elections hot up across the United States, here's everything Americans in Europe need to know about voting from overseas.

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Unlike some countries, the US does not limit voting to people who live there - all adult US citizens can vote, no matter how long they have lived outside the country (excluding those who have had their voting rights suspended after committing a crime).

The Presidential Election is not until November, but primaries are beginning now and you may be able to vote in your state's primary too. The primaries began in January and are set to run until June 2024.

How do I vote?

This will depend on your state - and in this case 'your' state would be the place where you last lived in the United States (even if you no longer own that property).

If you have never lived in the US, then you'll want to start by finding out if you are eligible to get an absentee ballot.

The bad news is that each state's rules and processes are slightly different, but the good news is that there are plenty of groups - both partisan and nonpartisan - that offer help to Americans abroad in getting registered.

One such organisation is the US Vote Foundation, which is a nonpartisan, nonprofit that "together with our Overseas Vote and US.VOTE initiatives, is dedicated to bringing best-in-class voter services to millions of American voters."

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Their website offers specific information for voting requirements for each state - for example you can see the deadlines, eligibility requirements, as well as other helpful tools including checking whether you are already registered to vote.

You can see an example for the state of Maryland below:

Credit: US Vote Foundation

There are also services offered from partisan groups like 'Democrats Abroad' and 'Republicans Overseas' which provide information and in some cases in-person help with getting registered to vote.

How far in advance should I request a ballot?

This will depend on your state and how absentee ballots are done, but the earlier the better. You can download the full voting calendar for 2024/2025.

The general election will be held on November 5th, 2024 while primaries run from January to June.

All registered US citizens can vote in the November 5th election, but whether or not you can vote in the primaries depends on your state.

How primaries work

As a quick civics refresher - in general, primaries will either be 'open', 'closed', 'partially closed' or 'partially open'.

For a closed primary, you must be a registered party voter to participate, meanwhile a partially closed primary might allow non-affiliated voters to participate as long as they are not registered with another party.

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Some primaries are 'partially open' or 'open to unaffiliated' voters - these might allow unaffiliated voters to participate or even let people change their party affiliation just for the primary.

As for open primaries, these allow voters to cross party lines. There are also 'top-two' primaries (as is done in California). You can find the full list (PDF) here.

The next variable is how the election will be run - it will either be a caucus (run by the party) or traditional election (run by the state or local government, done on a normal ballot). 

Caucuses are unique - they take place in person, with groups of people debating candidates and eventually trying to convince others to join their side. The size of a group supporting a candidate helps to determine how many delegates the candidate should receive.

All of this to say - based on the type of primary your state conducts, you may or may not be able to participate from abroad, and the process could be different from one state to the next.

For example, the Republican Iowa Caucus happens in local meeting spaces (in person) so you would need to return home to participate.

The Iowa Democratic party has unveiled new plans to make the caucus more accessible by offering a 'presidential preference card', which can be downloaded, printed and filled out, then emailed or returned by mail. 

Registered Democrats also have another option - they can vote in a Global Presidential Primary, which runs from March 5th to March 12th, 2024. Democrats Abroad sends their own delegates to the DNC, but you can only participate if you have not voted in any other 2024 state presidential primary. More info here.

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