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To reside or not reside: Overseas citizens sudden desire to participate in US elections while living abroad

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act set up the requirements and guidelines to participate in federal and state elections for both military members serving away from home and American citizens living overseas. Some of the guidelines include items such as the ballots being sent out 45 days early and allowance for electronic transfer of ballots. However, is this program secure? Is it possible that people could abuse the system and allow for non-citizens to vote in state elections?  

We have examined the data from the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) Comprehensive Report to see if anything unusual stood out between the 2018 and 2020 general elections. We focused on the number of Federal Post Card Application (FPCA) forms that had been received in each election years. On average, there was an increase of 100% – 300% of applications received; going from a midterm election to a general election, this increase was expected. In some states, such as Arizona, there is an expiration date on how long the data on a form can be used (2 years), so citizens are required to send in a new application even if their status has not changed. This also helps account for the increased levels of applications.  

Election  Total FPCA  Miliary FPCA  Overseas FPCA 
Arizona 2018  6,381  1,879  4,446 
Arizona 2020  21,889  6,375  10,242 
Percentage change  243%  239%  130% 

We did discover some outliers; Washington state showed an increase in applications by over 1200%. Upon further investigation, it was learned that Washington state allows for overseas and military voters to use the standard registration form in years prior, so the FPCA form was not the only method a voter could have used to request a ballot. When searching online, the FPCA form is universally accepted within the states so more voters could have been guided to that form as a source to request a ballot.  

Election  Total FPCA  Miliary FPCA  Overseas FPCA 
Washington 2018  2,006  592  1,414 
Washington 2020  27,524  5,206  22,318 
Percentage change  1272%  779%  1478% 


Wisconsin showed an increase of 886%. Research shows that Wisconsin contains one military base, Fort McCoy, and two national guard locations. The majority of requests were made by overseas citizens, and Wisconsin allows citizens who have never resided in the United States to register to vote under WI 6.24(2). Finally military or permanent overseas voters are not required to provide a photo ID or any proof of residence when applying via the FPCA form. When contacted about their process it was explained that if the public had knowledge of a falsified voter registration, they could present the information to the clerk and the clerk’s office will research it. Wisconsin expressed that ultimately it is the responsibility of the voter to honestly certify to their voter type and the voter is the person held responsible if falsify any information. 


Election  Total FPCA  Miliary FPCA  Overseas FPCA 
Wisconsin 2018  394  92  302 
Wisconsin 2020  3,886  759  3,127 
Percentage change  886%  725%  935% 


Some states did not report any data for FPCA forms received, these states include:
Rhode Island
South Carolina

Overall, only a handful of states are transparent on their systems when it comes to how overseas and military voters are verified. This is an area that could be improved upon for increased election security. Existing systems could be utilized to confirm the identity of military members such as Common Access Card (CAC) verification. The CAC, is a “smart” card that is the standard identification for uniformed personnel. It is also the principal card used to enable physical access to buildings and controlled spaces, and it provides access to DoD computer network and systems. All military members are issued one and it remains active while they are serving. The CAC can be used to confirm military status and can be used to create a digital signature unique to the individual. Additionally online portals can be used for a secure and controlled method to transfer and receive ballots. The goal is to make it easier for legitimate voters to have their ballots transmitted in a secure, simple, and expedient method.  The total number of FPCA forms reported by state and the percentage of change between the 2018 and 2020 elections are listed below:

State  2018 Total 
Alabama  779 
Alaska  1,140 
Arizona  6,381 
Arkansas  229 
California  48,145 
Colorado  6,889 
Connecticut  N/A 
Delaware  1,182 
District of Columbia  57 
Florida  25,082 
Georgia  739 
Hawaii  894 
Idaho  781 
Illinois  8,672 
Indiana  3,512 
Iowa  2,410 
Kansas  2,146 
Kentucky  3,106 
Louisiana  293 
Maine  N/A 
Maryland  9,441 
Massachusetts  10,003 
Michigan  5,962 
Minnesota  8,328 
Mississippi   1,208 
Missouri   937 
Montana  2,832 
Nebraska  899 
Nevada  2,699 
New Hampshire  2,552 
New Jersey  3,913 
New Mexico  775 
New York   63,555 
North Carolina  6,432 
North Dakota  90 
Ohio  9,251 
Oklahoma  1,247 
Oregon  8,096 
Pennsylvania  6,044 
Rhode Island  812 
South Carolina  N/A 
South Dakota  291 
Tennessee  5,385 
Texas  29,070 
Utah   2,092 
Vermont  N/A 
Virginia  14,917 
Washington  2,006 
West Virginia  570 
Wisconsin  394 
Wyoming  177 
Total  312,437 


State  2020 Total 
Alabama  3,578 
Alaska  3,001 
Arizona  21,889 
Arkansas  956 
California  117,618 
Colorado  11,584 
Connecticut  N/A 
Delaware  2,918 
District of Columbia  2,353 
Florida  39,113 
Georgia  3,945 
Hawaii  4,534 
Idaho  3,285 
Illinois  25,678 
Indiana  7,991 
Iowa  6,772 
Kansas  5,611 
Kentucky  7,667 
Louisiana  1,552 
Maine  N/A 
Maryland  27,492 
Massachusetts  25,487 
Michigan  20,945 
Minnesota  19,154 
Mississippi   3,717 
Missouri   1,803 
Montana  3,976 
Nebraska  2,853 
Nevada  8,738 
New Hampshire  7,165 
New Jersey  25,152 
New Mexico  2,159 
New York   67,931 
North Carolina  25,573 
North Dakota  339 
Ohio  25,719 
Oklahoma  8,311 
Oregon  2,683 
Pennsylvania  32,027 
Rhode Island  N/A 
South Carolina  N/A 
South Dakota  74 
Tennessee  16,713 
Texas  87,645 
Utah   4,299 
Vermont  N/A 
Virginia  40,408 
Washington  27,524 
West Virginia  1,632 
Wisconsin  3,886 
Wyoming  1,143 
Total   764,691 


State  % Change from 2018-2020 
Alabama  359% 
Alaska  163% 
Arizona  243% 
Arkansas  317% 
California  144% 
Colorado  68% 
Connecticut  N/A 
Delaware  147% 
District of Columbia  4028% 
Florida  56% 
Georgia  434% 
Hawaii  407% 
Idaho  321% 
Illinois  196% 
Indiana  128% 
Iowa  181% 
Kansas  161% 
Kentucky  147% 
Louisiana  430% 
Maine  N/A 
Maryland  191% 
Massachusetts  155% 
Michigan  251% 
Minnesota  130% 
Mississippi   208% 
Missouri   92% 
Montana  40% 
Nebraska  217% 
Nevada  224% 
New Hampshire  181% 
New Jersey  543% 
New Mexico  179% 
New York   7% 
North Carolina  298% 
North Dakota  277% 
Ohio  178% 
Oklahoma  566% 
Oregon  -67% 
Pennsylvania  430% 
Rhode Island  N/A 
South Carolina  N/A 
South Dakota  -75% 
Tennessee  210% 
Texas  201% 
Utah   105% 
Vermont  N/A 
Virginia  171% 
Washington  1272% 
West Virginia  186% 
Wisconsin  886% 
Wyoming  546%