First of all, I want to begin this post off with a little disclosure that I can only speak to my experience voting abroad as an American citizen. So, to anyone reading who may be thinking of studying abroad who isn’t an American citizen: the process of voting abroad probably won’t look exactly the same but hopefully you can learn something helpful through my experience!
Like the beginnings of most of my semesters, I started off organized and energized in Rome. I picked out a cute planner I promised myself I would actually start using, I bought a collection of colorful pens to color code my due dates, and I wrote down every single thing I had to do, whether it was a homework assignment or a call back home. One of the very first things on my to-do list was to register to vote abroad so I could vote in the upcoming midterm elections. Within the first couple of weeks of being here, I managed to apply for my absentee ballot. I filled out a form online, and just like that, I was registered to vote absentee as a Virginia citizen living abroad. An email popped up in my inbox within a few days with detailed instructions for how to vote and the materials I would need.
After that email, I barely thought about the rest of the process. I figured the biggest step was done and now all I had to was, well, vote. Pretty simple, right? But as my courses became to pick up, I found my energetic, organized habits slowly start to slip. Each time I opened my inbox (which, for those of you who don’t know me personally, happens at least five times daily), “Absentee Ballot Enclosed” stared at me. Eventually, it got to the point where I barely even noticed its presence. That is until I looked at the date one day and realized it was more than halfway through October – I had completely forgotten about the fact that it would probably take at least a week (maybe even two – I’m honestly not quite sure of the ins and outs of the international postal service) for my ballot to reach Virginia.
Luckily for me, Megan, a friend of mine who also happens to be from Virginia, emailed the American Embassy in Rome and found out you could drop off your ballot to be mailed home starting at noon on weekdays. I had never been to any American Embassy before and was incredibly stressed the morning we headed over. I changed twice, worried there was some type of embassy dress code – there wasn’t. However, there was a list of items you can’t bring inside, including backpacks and electronics.
Megan and I took turns actually going inside to get an envelope and mail our ballot, while one of us stayed outside with our backpacks. In my rush to get ready in the morning, I forgot to write my mailing address on the mailing slip, and my mind completely blanked on my Rome address when I went to fill it out in the embassy. Thankfully, I was able to remember eventually, but I would definitely suggest making sure you’ve got all the little things in check before going to mail off your documents.
Within 30 minutes, Megan and I walked away from the embassy having successfully sent out our ballots! It’s comforting for me to know that even from across an ocean, I can still be a part of important events at home. All in all, the process was a little stressful, confusing, and even intimidating at times (especially going to the embassy), but it was well worth it for me.