Samuel F. Wright

Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret.)
Director, Service Members Law Center
(800) 809-9448, ext. 730
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Special Delivery for Votes: Agencies combine to expedite delivery of marked asbentee ballots from overseas military personnel.

By Captain Samuel F. Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.)

In cooperation with the Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA) of the Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced on June 22 a new way for overseas military personnel and other overseas voters to expedite delivery of marked absentee ballots to their hometown local election officials (LEOs). This new delivery system implements a requirement of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act), which Congress passed in October 2009, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. 

The USPS announced the creation of the new Express Mail Label 11DOD, which will be free to the overseas voter. This new label is intended solely for the delivery of the marked absentee ballot from the voter to the LEO back home. The label is free to the voter, but the USPS will derive revenue from the federal treasury, as authorized by Congress. The MPSA will expedite delivery of these ballots from overseas voters to the USPS, at the three gateways in New York (APO and FPO AE), Miami (APO and FPO AA), and San Francisco (APO and FPO AP). The USPS will treat these ballots as Express Mail, delivering them in just one day to LEOs in county courthouses and town halls around the country. 

Express Mail Label 11DOD will enable the individual voter to track the delivery of his or her ballot all the way to the LEO’s office in his or her hometown. The voter needs assurance that the marked ballot really did arrive on time and got counted.

Absentee voting involves three time-consuming steps. First, the absentee ballot request must travel from the voter to the LEO. Second, the unmarked absentee ballot must travel from the LEO to the voter. Finally, the marked ballot must travel from the voter back to the LEO. 

The problem is that secure electronic means have not been authorized. As a nation, we are still conducting absentee voting much as it was conducted during World War II, by shipping pieces of paper across oceans and continents by snail mail. All too often, overseas military personnel (and sometimes military personnel within the United States) are disenfranchised through no fault of their own. Despite timely applications for absentee ballots, they do not receive their ballots in time to mark and return them to hometown LEOs in time to be counted. 

LEOs cannot print absentee ballots, much less mail them out, until all uncertainties about the names of candidates and the wording of ballot propositions have been resolved. Late primaries, ballot access lawsuits, and other problems all too often delay the printing and mailing of absentee ballots. As a result, the brave young men and women serving in uniform overseas are disenfranchised.

Another problem is that the military voter often moves around in unpredictable ways. Say the LEO sends SGT Brown his absentee ballot, addressed to his APO address in Afghanistan, but SGT Brown is wounded on the same day the ballot was mailed. By the time the unmarked ballot gets to Afghanistan, SGT Brown is at Ramstein AFB Hospital in Germany, or the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., or at any of several other military hospitals. By the time the ballot catches up with him, Election Day is past. 

Express Mail Label 11DOD will expedite the return of the marked ballot from the voter to the LEO. We also need to expedite the delivery of the unmarked ballot from the LEO to the voter. The MOVE Act amended the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) to require that each LEO (all 7,838 of them nationwide) mail out unmarked absentee ballots by the 45th day preceding Election Day or get a waiver from the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF). To get the waiver, the LEO must show that an undue hardship prevents him or her from meeting the 45-day deadline, and the LEO must show satisfactory alternative arrangements (satisfactory to SECDEF) to ensure that UOCAVA voters (military and civilian) have a reasonable opportunity to cast ballots that really do get counted. 

Readers, please contact your LEO: county clerk, county registrar of voters, town clerk, the titles vary, but you can figure it out. Please remind the LEO of the new requirements under the MOVE Act. Under this new federal law, the LEO must mail out absentee ballots not later than Saturday, Sept. 18, to overseas voters (military and civilian) who have their applications in by that time. If the LEO misses this deadline, for whatever reason, he or she must report to SECDEF and work with SECDEF on an alternative arrangement, such as an extension of the deadline for the receipt of absentee ballots mailed in from outside the United States. The report to SECDEF can be made to ROA Life Member Robert Carey, director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program. His e-mail is His telephone is 703-588-8118.

Please tell the LEO that we recognize that mailing out ballots 45 days before Election Day requires a special effort, but this is a small accommodation for the young men and women from the community who are away from home and prepared to lay down their lives in defense of the nation. Were it not for the sacrifices of military personnel, from the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism, none of us would have the opportunity to vote in free elections.

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