MANILA – All American citizens, including Filipino-Americans, living in the Philippines are encouraged to register now to be able to take part as absentee voters for the US midterm elections in November.
"We wanted to encourage people to vote in the upcoming election which is in November. We want to help them figure out the process, first of all, to know that they are eligible to vote. All US citizens overseas are eligible to vote in the absentee ballot," said Lisa Lumbao, vice chair of Democrats Abroad in the Philippines.
The midterm election, which will elect members of the US Congress, is scheduled on November 4, 2014.
Lumbao said the group also wants to allay any fears or worry that people have about voting.
"Some people don't think they're eligible," she said.
According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program website, eligible to vote are US citizens and must be 18 years old (in some states 17-years old are allowed to vote in primary election if they will turn 18 by the general election day).
Lumbao also debunked another myth about voting.
"Some people are worried its going to have tax implications which as long as you're voting only for the Federal offices--in this election its not president and vice president but other Federal offices like for Senate--those don't have any tax implications. If you're voting for the local elections there might be," she said.
The law allows Americans to vote in US Federal elections while abroad and regardless of how long they have been overseas or when and where they last voted. Children of US citizens who have never resided in the United States may vote in the state where their American parents last resided.
However, Irene Donohue, treasurer of Democrats Abroad in the Philippines, reminded that "every state is different".
With millions of Americans living overseas, absentee votes can make a big difference.
"A lot of people think, 'Oh it doesn't make a difference. Absentee ballots, they're such a small portion of the overall votes that's not gonna make a difference'. But there have been several elections that it has been a critical factor. There are certain races that are very close where it makes a big difference," said Lumbao.
Lumbao said Filipino-Americans and their relatives are also affected by several issues facing America today.
"The issues that the Democrats are really working hard for such as healthcare, immigration reform, minimum wage laws, improving the economy, the environment, are really important for us, and Filipinos," she said.
Lumbao believes that absentee voting is growing over the years as even Americans who live in the US are traveling around the world often.
"So on election day, they're pretty sure they are gonna be on a business trip so they vote absentee. The last election they did a lot of early voting as well. I think there's a trend on more flexibility and try to give people more opportunities to vote," she said.
But how exactly convenient it is to register as an absentee voter?
• Americans abroad must register and request a ballot (Federal Post Card Application or FPCA) from their local voting authority.
• The request must be received and accepted. The voting authority transmits a ballot overseas (by post or electronically).
• The voter must complete and mail it back.
• In the event a voter fails to receive a duly requested ballot, a backup is available: the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, or FWAB.
Both Lumbao and Donohue encourage American absentee voters here in the Philippines and abroad to make use of their website www.votefromabroad.org instead.
"The website actually simplifies the whole process. Once you put in the last address that you had in the US, then it shifts everything to the rules for that state. Every state is different so it really tailors it to your state and then it prints out the address you have to mail it to," explained Lumbao.
Registering using votefromabroad.org:
• By answering a few simple questions, the voter immediately receives a completed FPCA ballot request – ready to be printed, signed and mailed to the address provided.
• VoteFromAbroad.org also immediately provides a FWAB write-in ballot, to be used in the event that the state ballot fails to arrive in time.
VoteFromAbroad.org is a public service provided by Democrats Abroad in both English and Spanish for the use of all overseas voters, regardless of party affiliation.
"You do not have to be a Democrat to go to VoteFromAbroad.org to register. We take every political party member or you don't have to be a member of any party. What we want to encourage is American citizens who are living abroad especially if they are living in the Philippines to register and vote in this midterm election because of how close it will be," said Donohue.
They also reminded American citizens of the recent legislation that requires overseas voters to file a new ballot request each year.
"People should be registering now to make sure that they make the deadline. Our rule of thumb is that you should be mailing your ballot like a month ahead of time," said Lumbao.
Democrats Abroad is connected to the Democratic Party in the U.S.