Time Running Out for U.S. Voters

MTMcFaul briefing Americans on Obama's Russia policy in Moscow on Saturday.
As the U.S. presidential election campaign heads into the home stretch, U.S. voters living in Russia will have to make up their minds earlier than the folks back home.

Sluggish postal service and the requirement of many states that absentee ballots be sent by mail means that time is quickly running out for those who have not yet applied for their ballot or have yet to even register.

The U.S. Embassy is advising Americans to send the standard absentee ballot request, the so-called Federal Post Card Application, at least 45 days before the Nov. 4 election -- meaning in the middle of September -- according to a warden message on its web site.

To help those who have not gotten their act together and to boost the usually dismal turnout among U.S. expatriates, Democrats Abroad, the party's official branch for expatriate voters, is holding two absentee ballot parties this week in Moscow.

The Republicans Abroad, which is not directly affiliated to the GOP unlike their Democrat counterpart, do not have an active chapter in the country.

But Andrew Hardisty, the country's acting chair of Democrats Abroad, said he would welcome anybody to the events, regardless of party affiliation. The first gathering will be held Wednesday at The Place restaurant, at 52/2 Kosmodamianskaya Naberezhnaya between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., while the second will be at the Hard Rock Cafe on Arbat, between noon and 2 p.m. on Saturday.

"We will register everybody to vote, because helping is a very big thing," Hardisty said.

Democrats Abroad held a Democrats-only event on Saturday evening with Michael McFaul, the Russia adviser to Democrat candidate Barack Obama. McFaul briefed attendees on Obama's Russia policy at the off-the-record meeting at the Peking Hotel.

U.S. citizens living in Russia have not been the keenest voters in the past. "Extrapolating from worldwide figures, probably between 1,000 and 1,500 of the more than 5,000 Americans living in the country cast their ballot," Hardisty said, adding that this year's high-profile campaign promises to provide a boost to the numbers. "Everybody is so excited that we might get a higher turnout this time."

One thing that causes confusion is that rules for voting outside the country differ significantly from one U.S. state or territory to another.

Voters from North Dakota, for instance, had to apply for absentee ballots by Sept. 25, while other states set the deadline for the end of October, according to the Federal Voter Assistance Program's web site (fvap.gov), which offers complete and updated information from the Voting Assistance Guide, which itself comprises 466 pages.

Many states also accept federal ballots, which can be downloaded at www.fvap.gov/pubs/onlinefwab.html.

Some states allow ballots to be submitted by fax or e-mail, provided that they have received applications in writing and that the ballot is also sent by mail.

"But that means your vote is not secret," Hardisty said.

He said most Americans living in Moscow would still be able to cast ballots if they fill out an application by the end of this week.

Others, like those from Massachusetts, can relax a little provided that they are registered and have their ballot, as their states accept votes received up to 10 days after election day.

The U.S. Embassy will forward ballots by mail free of charge, but voters need to take into account that it takes eight to 12 days for letters to arrive in the United States.

Regular mail from Russia takes roughly three weeks to arrive, Hardisty said.

Those who missed theses deadlines can resort to FedEx until Oct. 28. The courier is offering a reduced rate of $23.50 for sending ballots from Russia to the United States (log on to www.overseasvotefoundation.org for details).