Apologies for this interruption to my regular programming — I realize Americans in South Africa represent a small percentage of my readership. But I learned some important information about overseas absentee voting this week and I want to make sure everyone else knows it too.

Most U.S. states are distributing their absentee ballots this week, in preparation for the Nov. 3 elections. The state of Virginia emailed me my ballot on Wednesday. States are required to distribute their absentee ballots by tomorrow, Sept. 19.

Voting instructions from Virginia

This will be the third presidential election I’ve voted in as an overseas voter. While many U.S. states allow absentees to submit their ballots via email or fax (who faxes things in 2020?), my state requires me to vote by mail. So for my first overseas election, in 2012, I sent my ballot back to the U.S. through the South African Postal Service and just hoped for the best. The second time, in 2016, I happened to fly back to the U.S. for a visit just before the election. So I mailed my ballot domestically once I arrived in the country.

I’m not taking chances in 2020. I don’t think I need to spell out why voting in this year’s U.S. presidential election is important, and literally every vote counts (notwithstanding the idiosyncrasies of the American electoral college, which I won’t get into here).

The South African Postal Service absolutely can’t be trusted. The U.S. Postal Service is also under serious threat, thanks to our charming Commander in Chief. So mailing my ballot home is not an option. Despite the huge expense, I had been planning to send my ballot back using a private courier service like DHL.

Send Your Ballot Through the U.S. Diplomatic Pouch

Then, earlier this week I was chatting with a friend whose partner works for the U.S. State Department. And I learned that Americans can return their completed ballots via the U.S. diplomatic pouch! In other words, I simply drop my ballot off at one of the U.S. consulates and the American government will deliver the ballot for me via domestic mail. This fact was a revelation to me. I’m ashamed I could have learned it eight years ago if I’d just done a bit more research.

If I didn’t know about the diplomatic pouch option, I figure there are probably other Americans in South Africa (and in countries all over the world, for that matter) who also don’t know. Hence, this blog post.

If you are an American in South Africa who would like to send your ballot through the diplomatic pouch, you must drop your ballot at the consulate in Joburg, Cape Town, or Durban by October 1, 2020. That’s very soon, so please don’t delay. All the information you need is on this page (scroll down to item #4). Bring your passport with you to the consulate when delivering the ballot. You can deliver ballots for other U.S. citizens.

I’ve already got my ballot filled out and ready to go. I’ll be driving it to Sandton on Tuesday.

My voting ballot for American in South Africa
My signed ballot envelope, which I’ll put inside another envelope affixed with the postage-paid label I received from the state of Virginia. Thanks to Robert, the gardener at my house, for acting as my witness.

If you haven’t requested your absentee ballot yet, it’s not too late. But you need to act fast. As I said, every state has different voting rules (because America likes to make things complicated) and some states make absentee voting easier than others. Please visit votefromabroad.org to request your ballot or any other assistance you need to vote. There are also lots of resources at democratsabroad.org (I’m sure the other team also has a page, but I’m punting my own team here), and you can follow Democrats Abroad on Instagram and Facebook.

Please vote, Americans in South Africa. Our lives, and those of our families and friends back home, depend on it. And please spread the word.


Vote to save us

The end: I will now step down from my soap box.

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