The first time I voted it was by absentee ballot. It was 2004 and I was studying abroad. In between semesters, when I’d been back home in the States, I’d watched the debates between presidential candidates, and I was excited to finally be able to participate in our democratic process by voting in the presidential primaries. I knew my candidate wouldn’t become the nominee, but it was exciting to know that my vote was being recorded and counted. I was getting a chance to have a say in my government and who would represent me in the years to come.

For a range of reasons, I’ve voted absentee more than I’ve voted in person. Absentee voting is a critical way for many voters who are unable to make it to the polls on Election Day. From health concerns to work schedules to travel, the reasons why a voter may need to vote absentee are numerous.

This year, I’ll get to vote in person, but my parents are voting absentee. They’ve recently retired abroad and absentee voting will be their primary method of voting for the foreseeable future. My mom wakes up in the middle of the night to stream the debates live and stays up to date on the latest gaffes and talking points through social media and online news outlets.

Since voting absentee is a new way of voting for my parents, they had some questions this year, which thanks to VOTE411.org, they were able to have answered easily and without cross-Atlantic phone calls. Rules for absentee voting vary by state, but all states offer some version.

When I voted absentee in 2004, I had to visit our local town hall to request an absentee ballot in person. Since my parents haven’t been in the States since May, they weren’t able to make the request in person, but VOTE411 and the Overseas Vote Foundation were able to help them make their request.

My parents have since requested their ballots and sent them in to be counted, and I’m sure my Mom will be up all night watching the returns roll in.