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FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — On the Fourth of July, millions of Americans will celebrate Independence Day. As Americans, we enjoy the privilege of free elections and freely-elected representatives. The general elections for federal and state offices are just five months away on Nov. 8, and with many local primaries this summer, it’s never too early to think about registering to vote.

To encourage participation in elections by service members and dependents, June 28 through July 5 is designated Armed Forces Voters Week. The goal is to create and encourage voting awareness and motivate eligible absentee voters to register or update their voter registration.

Many service members and their families are often stationed outside of their state of legal residence, which, in turn, requires voting by absentee ballot if they wish to participate in elections. For active-duty service members and families, their state of legal residence will normally match the state they claim for income tax purposes on their leave and earnings statement. For dependents eligible to vote, their state of legal residence may differ from their sponsor.

It is important to keep your voter registration up to date if you intend to vote, either in person or by absentee ballot. There are three important resources available to service members and their eligible dependents that are easy to access and use.

The first is the Federal Voting Assistance Program website, designed as a resource to make voting accessible anywhere in the world by providing instruction on voter registration, voting and your state-specific guidance.

The Federal Post Card Application is another resource that helps service members, their families and citizens living outside the United States vote. The FPCA is a dual-purpose electronic form that can be used to register to vote and simultaneously request an absentee ballot. The FPCA is also used to submit a change of address to your local election officials, keeping voting registrations current for you and your family. To fill out a FPCA, contact any unit voting assistance officer, or visit the FVAP website. Once you select your state of legal residence, you can complete a FPCA while being provided state-specific information, requirements and deadlines.

Most states use their Secretary of State’s website as a resource for military voter information and updates. Many of these websites offer similar services as FVAP, and are another opportunity to stay informed, register to vote and request an absentee ballot.

Election officials are required to send absentee ballots 45 days prior to an election to those who are registered and have requested a ballot.

Once an absentee ballot is received, it is important to vote the ballot and return it promptly to the local election official. This will ensure the voted ballot arrives prior to the cutoff date set by your state. Do research on candidates and issues beforehand to make completing and returning the ballot faster and easier. If you don’t get your ballot in time, that is no problem. Get a Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot from the FVAP website or your voting assistance officer.

Voting is your right, privilege and a responsibility of U.S. citizens. Remember, service members can vote from wherever they are.

The Installation Voting Assistance Office — located in Bldg. 470, Room 2124 — and your local unit voting assistance officer are available to offer voting assistance and information. Call 573.596.2665, or e-mail keith.l.white6.civ@army.mil for more information.