A Woman Without A State

Being the spouse of an active duty servicemember has its perks.  Living abroad for finite periods of time, excellent health care coverage at a reasonable cost, and commissary and exchange privileges, just to name a few.  Of course, there are reasons for such incentives, including lengthy deployments, high-risk day-to-day activities, and being called to combat.

While I was wholly unprepared to marry into the military family, I did so joyfully.  My Husband offered to limit his relocation to a geographic area near my then law practice.  No, that was unnecessary, I reassured him.  We rolled the dice, allowing him to be called where needed.  No one, myself included, could take issue with moving to San Diego, California.  And then came Okinawa, Japan.  We should probably head to Vegas before our luck runs out.

While where we are living isn’t a problem, giving up ties to any particular locale has become troublesome.  When I prepared our taxes this year, I was asked to list my state of legal residency.  For most, this question is simple.  It is the state in which one owns property, registers his or her vehicle, pays taxes, votes, has a diver’s license, etc.  We don’t own property.  We own two vehicles registered in Okinawa.  Upon the advice of our tax preparer, I didn’t file (or pay) state taxes last year.  (But it appears we should have filed in California despite not having a tax liability.)  I am registered to vote in Maryland and possess a Maryland driver’s license.

Were I forced to “go home” today, where would I go?  Frankly, I don’t know.  I love New York.  I will always consider the City to be my home.  But I don’t envision it being our home.  Washington, D.C., where I attended law school and where I lived during our courtship, also has favored city status, especially areas bordering select parts of Maryland.  (I try to stay as far away from Virginia as possible.)  And then there is Maryland, the state in which I was raised, where my parents reside, and the location of our first marital home.  Legally, other than a driver’s license boasting my former home’s address and my voter registration status, there is nothing connecting me to the state.

Why is determining my state of legal residency keeping me up at night?  There are two reasons, but only one matters now.  The first involves tax liability.  The details are irrelevant, but suffice it to say that where I reside (or intend on residing) is a significant factor as to whether–and where, if at all–to file taxes.  The second–and more pressing–reason is because I want to vote in the general election.  Yes, I know, I can vote by way of absentee ballot.  But it’s not that simple.  The last time I voted absentee ballot, I completed an online questionnaire and had to speak with State Board of Elections staff who asked numerous questions.  Where do I live?  What is my address?  When will I be returning home?

Uncomfortable questions for a mostly-truthful person, considering.  In an attempt for my vote to be meaningful, I would like to receive my ballot as soon as practicable.  I’ve stared at the online questionnaire for some time, but have yet to undertake answering its routine questions.   The irony is that I value our nomadic way of life.  I suppose some would argue we don’t have much.  But that is our sweet spot, at least for now.  Unburdened by things and stuff, we are able to travel lightly and start anew wherever we make our home.  But for now, I just want to be able to vote.

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