I'm an American living abroad and I'd like to register to vote. I'm trying to figure out in which state I can vote. I was born in Pennsylvania and lived there until the age of 21, then moved to Maryland for 4 years, then I was a graduate student in New Jersey for a little over a year, and then I moved abroad. So New Jersey was the last state in which I lived in the US, but I don't really consider myself a New Jerseyan; I have much stronger ties to Pennsylvania or even Maryland.

The website www.votefromabroad.com gives the following advice on the matter:

As U.S. citizen living abroad, your voting address is usually your last residence address in the U.S.-- but if you have new or strong ties to another state, you may be able to vote there. It is up to the Local Election Official (LEO) to determine whether to accept your voter registration application. You can explain your situation to your Local Election Official (contact information here) and ask what their decision would be, or you can try to submit the Federal Post Card Application (FPCA)–which you can produce here–and see if it is accepted.

So I took their advice, sent in my Federal Post Card Application in order to vote in Pennsylvania, and it was accepted, and I should be receiving some "balloting materials" in the mail. So does this mean it's legal for me to use these balloting materials to vote in Pennsylvania as long as I don't vote in any other state?

2 Answers 2


This website from the Federal Voting Assistance Program gives a good overview. As it says, "Your voting residence is your address in the State in which you were last domiciled, immediately prior to leaving the United States."

Laws about domicile vary from state to state, and sometimes for different purposes; in one state, the law about domicile for state income tax might be worded differently than the law about domicile for getting a driver license. The general idea is it is the place you intend as your permanent home, and intend to return to when you are temporarily absent.

So if, while you were in Maryland, you thought of it as a temporary absence from Pennsylvania, then Pennsylvania was still your domicile. Likewise for New Jersey. And since it's about your intent, if you tell all the government officials you encounter or correspond with that even on your last day in New Jersey, you always intended to return to Pennsylvania, the government would be hard-pressed to prove otherwise.

Keep in mind that whichever place in the US was your last domicile is now your voting residence. It may be that the place is no longer your domicile. Reasons why it may not be your domicile could be that you now intend to stay in your current overseas home permanently. Or perhaps the US place has been torn down and an office building built on the site.

A voting residence is a different concept from a domicile, because if you move permanently overseas, you might not be entitled to a US driver license, you probably don't have to pay income tax to any state*, but you're always entitled to vote in US elections.

*You still have to file US income tax returns, and possibly pay tax.

As the web page linked above mentions, a person who never lived in a state may not be able to vote in federal elections, because the people elected in federal elections, like representatives, senators, and electors of the electoral college, all represent a particular place. If you don't have ties to any particular state or territory in the US, you can't just pull a name of a state out of a hat and decide to vote there.


IANAL - Intuitively, I'd say yes you could use the "balloting materials" that are sent to you from Pennsylvania. In the event that your "balloting materials" are questioned or you are challenged subsequent to using your "balloting materials" - I would have documentation that clearly explains your situation so that the is no question that you were completely honest when you applied.

I have made the presumption that "balloting materials" refers to the actual ballot and the associated envelopes and signature cards that are characteristically send with absentee ballots. That said, keep in mind that the acceptance of your ballot (for counting purposes) can still be challenged when the votes are being tallied

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .