Voting as a Military Spouse: How It Can Be Easier and Why It’s Important

The Waiting Warriors Podcast

Voting As A Military Spouse: How It Can Be Easier and Why It's Important

By Michelle Bowler

Voting as a military spouse: how it can be easier and why it's important: Picture of two military spouses: Michelle Bowler and Sarah Streyder

Do you have questions about how voting works as a Military Spouse? This video will answer all of your questions and has great resources exclusively for the military and military spouse community!

Military Spouses And Voting

Hey, military spouses and loved ones. My name’s Michelle Bowler, host of the Waiting Warrior Podcast, and this week I have a really awesome interview for you. I talk to Sarah Streyder, who is an expert at all things military spouse voting. She has a whole bunch of resources for us that go through how to make it easier, why it’s important, and everything you need to know to get ready for this election coming up in just a few weeks.

So here’s the interview.

 Hi everybody. It’s been a while since I’ve done alive or anything, but it’s like voting time. It’s October and it’s funny because it doesn’t seem like. Voting time because it’s not a presidential election, so who cares, Right? But we care. We’re gonna start caring.

I have a really knowledgeable, like the prodigy holy Grail of voting and military spouse with voting. Welcome to the show, Sarah.

 Thanks Michelle. 

I’ll give a quick intro. Sarah. The most recent thing in her bio is that she was voted the  Armed Forces Insurance, Military Spouse of the year.

And she won the whole overall program overall winner, which is no small feat and it’s super fun. But as she explains, you’ll kind of see why she has done a lot and she really is an expert. Voting and why military spouses should vote and has a whole bunch of background in that. So how, can you give us a little bit of your background?

Yeah, sure. So like most military spouses, my resume looks like a bit of a quilt with lots of different patchworks that aren’t exactly logical. But right now I’m the executive director of the Secure Families Initiative and we’re a nonpartisan non-profit whose goal is to mobilize military partners and family members to be voters and advocates in our communities.

Should Military Spouses Vote?

Why you? Because we think it’s important, but our perspectives and our interests be reflected in the public policy choices that decision makers make everywhere from that local school board level all the way up to commander in chief. And so we’ve done the homework, so you don’t have to, We try to make things like registering to vote and, and.

In training about how to be a most effective advocate. We’ve tried to do all of that research and condense it into ways that are really easy, simple, and understandable. And relatable to the unique military family lifestyle we all live. So hopefully the stuff that I’ve got to share today resonates as relevant with y’all.

Yeah, I love it and I really. Like, I love your guys’ mission because as many of the waiting warriors know when I, our son was still born at a military hospital in 2021, a lot of things like got exposed on kind of the. , just the shortfalls in the military medical system. And so, but it was really interesting and really powerful to watch as people reached out to me of like, This is what I’ve experienced of what’s wrong and then other people reaching out of like, Hey, I know somebody who knows something and maybe we can figure out how to put it.

Like all of these military spouses came together and we made a huge change at a few hospitals and like we, we literally changed the paperwork that was given out to these perinatal loss families. We changed how. The access of training for the doctors and stuff so they could be more compassionate. And it’s like, it is incredibly impactful when military spouses start talking to each other.

Right. Like, and I just love that you facilitate that and kind of then empower us and stuff. And I, I really love it. But, and that, and that’s just, Okay. That’s what we do at a hospital. So could you imagine what we would do with voting and like, and how? Just the power 

that comes in on this. I was gonna say, I think as military spouses, we’ve gotten more accustomed to our ability, our right to be an advocate for ourselves and our families.

Within the D O d I think there’s been a growth, an evolution of the role of military spouse and the professionalism and leadership that a lot of us have exhibited in, into making internal change. . But when it comes to voting, when it comes to, you know, that, that electoral stuff, I, I’ve found that some folks get a little queasy.

They think, Oh, but this is politics and I’m not supposed to be political. Yeah. And, and, and it somehow feels tangibly different. And I wish I could, you know, smash that misconception of a hammer every time I hear it because, . It’s first of all, like this is the democracy that your service goes toward protecting, right?

Mm-hmm. . And so I want you to get to partake in the, in the rewards for your, for your service, for your lifestyle. But if you don’t think that our political system is made better by your voice, being a part of those conversations, both at the secret private ballot box, but also, you know, everywhere else in the gamut.

I, you know, I think you’re missing an opportunity to make sure that other people get to benefit from our perspectives. So I really wish that we would have the same confidence and be as similarly vocal even in that kind of political system. Yeah. 

Should Military Spouses Vote In Local Elections?

So what would you say, cuz I feel like it kind of. It’s two things that makes it hard for military spouses to vote.

At least this is what was expressed. I did a poll on the Waiting Warriors Instagram. Oh, nice. This is, this is what was expressed is that there’s one of like, I don’t wanna hurt my husband’s job. Right. And we’re not supposed to be political, which you just addressed. But then there’s also like, I’m a temporary, I’m a temporary resident in this place, so should I.

Should I vote on local matters? Should I vote on state matters? Or you, you know, or you know, do I just keep it for the president and the federal things because I’m, you know, we might come back here in 10 years, or we might not, You know, I’m only, We’ve been in places for six months and it was during a voting term.

We’ve been in places for only a year, you know. You know, is, should I guess point blank, should military spouses still vote in local places even though we’re only somewhere for one to three 

years? So the mature answer would be for me to say, you know, vote your conscience, only vote when and where you feel particularly compelled.

But I’ve gotta be honest, Michelle, there is a very like fiery part of me that’s like, absolutely you need a boat in every single way possible in every single race. And, you know, so I I, I’m being. Coming and saying, Yeah, I’ve got both of those sides within me. Put it this way, let, let’s, let’s start with one thing.

Different military family members make different decisions about whether they maintain the same voter registration in the same district, even as they, you know, bounce around and move around. You just mail your ballot back from different addresses as you move. So some people decide to take that approach to their voting.

Yeah. Other people decide to change the voter registration to every single physical address that they move to as long as it’s within the continental United States. Of course, as they go about their military family career. and both, both situations. I’ve heard this kind of a, a, an impression either, A, I don’t live there anymore, even as I’m voting back home.

I don’t feel like I have a right to have a say at a place that I’m not living or B, I am voting where I’m living, but I I’m not gonna be here for very long. You know, what Right. Do I have? And, and I think both of those are crap, if I may say so myself, , because here’s the thing. , you have a valuable vantage point to, to bring.

You are someone who, if you’re, if you live with an active duty family who’s PCs a bunch of different times, maybe you’ve even been overseas, that means that you’ve lived all throughout the world and you’ve gotten to see different ways of government, different policies, different institutions, different cultures.

That is a valuable add that you get to contribute to whichever election you participate in, whether it’s one back home or whether it’s where you’re living right now. I like to see that as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. Our travel this and that’s something that you get to contribute. Also, I think that there’s a way of, of thinking about this as a, as a pay it forward kind of thing, right?

You may only be there for six months in a, in your current assignment, and you might be voting on ballot initiatives that don’t even take into effect until after you’ve already left. But guess what? There’s gonna be another military family that’s gonna fill your slot. They’re gonna be moving in right behind you, and they’re not gonna have a say in this ballot measure in this election, cause they haven’t gotten there yet.

You get to pay it forward. You get to invest, whether it’s by. or volunteering or speaking up in some other capacity within your local elections within your, you get to contribute to good governments there that someone else is gonna benefit from. And so I really think that we should kind of dismiss those self doubts uh, and really lean into the, like I said, rights that we have to participate.


I had never thought of it that way before. Of that I, it’s my chance to represent the military families who are coming in next. And yes, even though we’re like temporal people, temporary people, there will always be this big giant military base and, and military families that need to be represented in voting.

How Can Military Spouses Be Educated Voters?

What is the easiest way though, to stay on top of local candidates issues, et cetera, so you can be an informed voter even though you’re moving all the time.

You know what I mean? Cause like growing up, I lived in the same place for, until I moved out for college. So like I heard my parents talking about the governor and the local you. Con or not Congressmen, the city council and all that kind of stuff. So I knew these names, I knew the issues. How do we stay on top of that?

Yeah. So no matter where you live and no matter whether you’re a local voter or a, an absentee voter, there are awesome nonpartisan online resources where you can click the ma the voting address that you’ve got, and it’ll come, it’ll populate lots of information about the candidates and the ballot measures that are gonna be on your ballot.

Mm-hmm. . The two that I like to recommend, we’ve got ballot ready dot. And vote four Again, both are nonpartisan, so you don’t have to kind of look at it sideways and start evaluating. Now. That said, if you’re a partisan person, if you know that you identify strongly with a party, often a party will also have opinions that they are express about good things in your ballot.

You’re welcome to look at that as well. But if you’re not a party person those are good resources now. I wanna add first of all, I think specifically if you live far away from the election where you’re voting. Cause if you live locally, you can kind of tap into what’s around you. Yeah. If you’re voting back home one, I’m gonna say elections are getting a lot.

Better at reaching us. So just this election, I’m an absentee voter this fall, and I got a mailer for election. I live in Virginia, but I’m a Washington state voter and I got a mailer in my post office box for a candidate running for office in Washington. So, His campaign found me, which I think is remarkable and it’s kind of new.

Similarly, I’ve been getting Instagram ads for the Senate race back in Washington. Yeah, Yeah. So I think candidates are gonna do you a favor by getting you the information you might be looking for more and more. Especially, especially if you have a consistent voting record, because then they see you on the voter rolls and they’re like, Listen, this person’s gonna show up.

Metaphorically to the polls. Yeah, I need to make sure to get my name in front of them. So A, that might be changing over time, but also second or B often we still have connections back home, whether it’s family, friends. I think this is a good excuse to kind of re-up those friendships. So sometimes I’ll be like, Hey, friend, that I haven’t talked to in a while, I hope you’re doing well.

How’s. also, have you heard about the Secretary of State race in this state? I have some questions. What are your opinions? What have you heard? Yeah, because your local news sources are talking about it more, right? So don’t be afraid to tap into your informal networks too. It can be a fun conversation starter.

How Do Military Spouses Know Which State They Should Vote In?

So how does it work? You kind of talked about absentee ballot and all that kinda stuff, and I know a lot of people get confused because. At least on like the army side that your eyes can cross because like your state of record or home of record or wherever and should that be changing, all that kind of stuff.

So how does that work voting wise with having a home of record or not and moving around and all that? Like what are the rules and all that? 

Totally. So let’s talk about some jargon real quick. So your home of record is going to be usually, if I’ve understood this correctly, which I pretty, I pretty hope I have home of record, is the address that you started with when you joined this military life.

So it’s kind of like your origin point. Okay? And that home of record likely will not change until you’re about to separate from the military, and then you might change it. To say where you want your household goods sent at the very end, but that is something that remains constant. It’s like a historical record.

However, a lot of people will choose to change their state of residence. So this is a new term that I want people to really focus on when it comes to voting state of residents. This is. Kind of what you may update throughout to say, Listen, this is my new hub, whether I live there right now, or whether I PCs away that I wanna maintain my connection to this place that is your state of residence.

So some people will change it to the state where they went to boot camp and then keep it for the rest of their career. Or some people, like I said, will change it every time they PCs to wherever they’re at. Mm-hmm. state of residence is the relevant legal term for where you would be paying state taxes.

Let’s say if you’re employed and you would. Income that would get tax. So if you’re a service member, it’s the address on yours if you’re a spouse or other dependent. If you’re formally employed, again, it’s the address on your W two. For legal purposes, that is the address that you are recommended to vote at.

You’re voting and your taxation kind of are supposed to go hand in hand. I’ve seen some people split it. But you kind of open yourself up to the risk of one state trying to get you for, for taxes that you’re trying to pay in another state. So the simplest, most straightforward thing to do is to line those up.

So state of residents. Should be where you’re voting whether that’s your home of record or not, it could be or could be not. And real quick, another thing that we often get mixed up with, you might have a driver’s license or a form of identification through an address that is neither your home of record nor your state of residence.

And. You can vote where you have your driver’s license, but you do not have to. It is where your seat of residence is and if they have identification requirements often because you’re a military family member you may, you don’t need to have a driver’s license there to be eligible to vote there.You should be eligible regardless. 

What's The Easiest Way To Register To Vote As A Military Spouse?

 So what is the easiest way to register when you move so often and stuff like, it sounds like you just do absentee ballot that is like, is it hard to register every time you move?

Well, the short answer should be no, . It should be straightforward either way. And again, it can feel intimidating, and that’s why we’re trying to make it simpler and more approachable. Mm-hmm. . So if you want to register in a new place every time you move Each locality where you’re moving to should have a form ready to use called voter registration.

Sometimes there are like national voter registration forms you can find that’ll kind of populate the special things. But all you gotta do is say, you know, Hey, I just moved to Alexandria, Virginia. I’m gonna look up, you know, Alexandria voter registration. And Google should find you the right form. If you’re gonna vote locally to where you’re currently living.

You’re gonna use whatever regular civilian channels there are the regular forms. You don’t need anything. Now if you’re going to register to vote somewhere where you’re not currently living, cuz the military sent you somewhere else, or let’s say you’re already registered there, but you wanna make sure your mailing address is updated because you PCs, so you need your absentee ballot to go somewhere else.

There is a. There is one form that everyone is gonna use the same no matter where you’re living or where you’re voting, and that is called the Federal Postcard Application or f pca a. It is a single one stop shop form. The Federal Voting Assistance Program, or FAP is the entity of d o d that’s supposed to help folks both access that form, fill it out, answer questions about it, that kind of thing.

And again, that’s a form that you’re gonna use whether you’re registering to vote somewhere else or you’re updating your mailing. For that rotor registration or if your name changed, any other personal details changed. It’s all the same form. And what’s awesome about that form is it gives you bonus rights as an absentee voter.

So you don’t need an excuse to vote absentee cuz the military is your excuse , it guarantees you get your ballot with 45 days before the election, so you got plenty of time to send it back. It also lets FFA intercede on your behalf. If something goes wrong with your ballot, as long as they’re helping to track it they can kind of be your buddy.

We love the F pca and we strongly encourage folks who are eligible to use it. Yeah. 

Okay, so it’s October 18th, voting date, what? 

November 4th. I feel like I should have known that. I think ninth actually, right? It’s been November. 

Yeah. It’s like whatever Tuesday. Right? It’s always a Tuesday. Correct. Okay. I do know that.

Hey, yeah, I know something. This is why we’re having this talk.

So it’s pretty. So is it too late to register or what are people’s 

options at this point? Well, first of all, I did just check, it’s November 8th. Whew. So November 8th, not ninth. That is election day. But I will say for most of us who are absentee voters, election day is any day between now and November 8th, because if you’re an absentee voter, today should be election day as soon as possible.

If you are an absentee voter and you have already gotten that ballot, and let’s say it’s been sitting on your kitchen counter and you’re like, Oh, I’ll get to that at some. Do not procrastinate. Please fill that out today. Get out your laptop, do your little candidate research and get that in the mail because especially if you have to mail it back, we still know that there are mail delivery delays as kind of like this aftershock of covid, especially if you are overseas.

So please, please do not delay. Get your ballot back as soon as possible. And once you’ve sent your ballot back, I would say there’s a great way you can track your ballot. So I’d strongly encourage you to look up for your locality. They should offer a ballot tracking option. If you don’t find one easily, you can always call the local election official wherever your locality is and be like, Hey, has my ballot gotten there?

I know it’s a bit labor intensive but I know it gives a lot of security and and assurance to folks who wanna make sure their ballot got counted. Some states even. You to return your ballot electronically. They’ll either have an email option or an online portal or fax is technically considered electronic.

I dunno about you, I don’t really have a fax machine. So if you wanna go to your family readiness center, maybe they can help. But whatever method you have available to you, use it and use it. Now if you, let’s say, are still wait. For your absentee ballot to get to you. So you’ve been registered, you did all the things, and you’re kind of, you know, checking your mailbox every day.

Still nothing. I would strongly at this point in the election cycle encourage you to use what’s called the federal right in absentee ballot or fwab, F W A B. Again, this is a bonus, right, for our absentee military voters. It is a generic voting form that you can send that’s treated like a provisional.

So you can fill it out and you can send it to your election official. And if you never get your actual ballot, they will count that instead. Or if your official ballot eventually gets there and you fill that one out, that one gets counted first. But they kind of hold onto your FB and wait for the official one to see if it comes or not.

So that way you can like guarantee even if like, Post office is totally messes up and your absentee ballot never gets to you. You still have a way of making your voice heard. Finally, Michelle Yas about registration. So whether or not you’re still able to register to vote entirely depends on your locality.

So definitely check the relevant deadlines for the city and state that you’re planning to vote, whether it’s where you’re currently living or somewhere else. Mm-hmm. . And if you’re still eligible, great. Do it right away. But if not, Set a calendar reminder for the next election and hope you don’t miss it next time.


Or like, can’t you just register and it like, you have to wait until like November 9th. 

Do you know what I mean? Great. You’re very proactive and I love it. No, you could totally register for next year. Yeah, Chan, I mean, things can change between now and the next election, so some people choose to wait, especially if they know they’re gonna be PCSing.

But yeah. You know, you can’t register too many times you can’t over register, so you might as well get something on the record and then update it later. Yeah, that’s true. 

It’s like we might be here next year, we might not. Yeah. Don’t really know. But right now I’m thinking about registering to vote, so I might as well just do it.

Right, Exactly. Exactly. Lord knows that a million things are gonna come onto our plate and into our mind. So right now, while we’re thinking about it, just take it care. Just take care of it. That was super helpful. Good. And I feel like it’s like, okay, we can do this. Right? Military spouses can do . There’s heck yeah.

And I, and I especially like, it’s like, okay, there are, there is a system set up to help us both, right? Like, it’s not like, well you’re a military spouse, sucks to be you. It’s gonna be harder. Like there’s a whole system and entity 

to. Correct. And if you don’t feel like wrangling the government website, cuz let’s be real government websites.

Go to secure families We’ve got a whole vote tab. We make it simple and streamlined. We even go into a little bit more detail about this whole choice about where, which address am I supposed to be using. Mm-hmm . So that’s, if I may humbly suggest, that’s probably a better resource. 

Abso . I would be shocked.

It wasn’t like parents are just bless their hearts, They try their best. 

Yeah, they’re trying real hard. Yeah. Like I know the person, whatever, like web designer guy who was in charge of it. Wanted to make it better, but there are limitations and that’s just fine. So any last words parting advice for us? Voting’s.

Awesome. Please do it. Please don’t not do it. I know midterm elections have lower turnout or lower enthusiasm, and I think that’s crap because these are often the positions that we’re voting for are often even more impactful to the stuff that matters to us. And if I may to kind of light one final fire under all of our.

In 2020, right? This election that was record breaking for turnout across the board. Military voters were 27% less likely to vote than civilians. And that’s even with controlling for like different demographic, different, similar, whatever. They did the stats and that was just, ugh, it broke my heart. So do me a favor, make it less than 27% difference this year.

Because truly we, we deserve to have our voices. Yeah, 

and maybe you can speak on this real fast. I just heard that it’s actually more important to vote on the local stuff because it’s the, It’s more often than not, the bigger federal government adopts local programs or laws and stuff and like, so it’s actually more impactful to vote for the mid elections, the local stuff, than just be like, well, Voting for president is gonna be the most like impact I 

can have, right?

Not necessarily. Yeah. Plus the margins are way narrower. I mean, there are literal races here in Virginia that were ties or made a difference between one vote and that. You can make a difference. Truly. Yeah. 

Agreed. Well, thank you Sarah, so much for taking time to kind of break that all down with us. We’ll get the links and have those posted on everywhere, so it makes it very usable, usable, easy, and accessible.

I can talk today, guys, and yeah guys, let’s go. Register, let’s go vote. Let’s like, The military population is 1% right and even less than the military pop one. That 1% is married and has spouses, but like. Really powerful things happen when we start speaking and when we start advocating and when we start advocating with our vote for the things that our community needs.

And even just like you’re not only a military spouse, you have thoughts and opinions on how the government should work, and they’re very valid opinions. So go and use that.

Thumbs up. Any last you’re, last, last 

words? No, I’m good. 

Okay. Thanks again, Sarah. Guys, go vote and have a good week. Bye. 

Resources For Military Spouses Wanting To Vote

3 Ways To Set Up Your Relationship For A Successful Deployment/TDY/Training

3 Ways To Set Your Military Marriage Up For A Successful Deployment, TDY, or Training
Michelle Bowler- military spouse - creator of the Bulletproof Your Reintegration Course

Author - Michelle Bowler

 Army wife of 11+ years, mom for 4 girls and a boy in heaven, and hardcore believer that it’s possible to have a thriving marriage, family, and military life.