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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Still haven’t sent in your absentee ballot for next week’s presidential election? You’re in luck.

Overseas voters are being given a free pass, literally, to ship their ballots by express service to the United States. Through Monday, Federal Express locations around Japan will be offering free service for all absentee ballots.

As part of an agreement with the U.S. government, the ballots will be shipped at no cost to the customers.

The service will be available only at Federal Express offices in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka and at U.S. embassies in those locations, said Alice Lai, a customer service representative for Federal Express in Japan.

“There won’t be any service for direct pickup,” Lai said, adding that Federal Express has no branches on U.S. military installations in Japan or Okinawa. “But the U.S. embassies in those four cities will accept the free shipments. The ballots can be taken directly to the embassies or one of our FedEx stations there. They can’t be placed in a FedEx drop box.”

Federal Express operates no stations in the Hokkaido or Tohoku areas, she added, so the free offer won’t be available to U.S. voters residing in those municipalities.

Contact the Federal Express in Japan customer service department at 012-000-3200 for more information.

Absentee ballots were a major factor in the confusion following the 2000 election, amid concerns about whether they were filed by the deadlines and whether they were counted accurately.

This year, several states didn’t mail their absentee ballots to overseas voters by Sept. 20, which election officials consider a cut-off date for reasonably expecting a ballot to be returned in time for it to be counted.

Election laws vary by state, with most requiring ballots be received before polls close on election day. However, ballots postmarked by election day, even if received soon after election day, are counted before the state sends its electors off to cast the state’s electoral votes in December. A close election will also trigger an automatic recount in many states, according to Brian McNiff, a spokesman with the Massachusetts Elections Division.

Federal election officials estimate 4.5 million eligible voters reside overseas, including hundreds of thousands of servicemembers and government civilian workers. This year, with so many troops deployed to Iraq and other locations around the world — in addition to those stationed in Europe and the Pacific — officials have made an extra push toward ensuring those votes are counted.

The Pentagon has set up a Web site — www.myballot.mil — that lets voters download absentee ballots. But according to the New York Times News Service, 23 states have declined to accept ballots filed via the Pentagon system, in some instances citing security concerns.

Vince Little contributed to this story.

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