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The Military Postal Service Agency is preparing measures for this election season that officials say will help absentee ballots move through the military mail system.

From Sept. 1 to Nov. 25, the military mail will prioritize absentee ballots, which will be specially marked and tagged, and personnel will be instructed to deal with those parcels first.

Postal personnel involved will be briefed and trained soon, according to Faye Johnson, MPSA chief of operations. They will be instructed that "whenever they see trays, tubs or anything with absentee ballots, that is to be expedited."

Mail room personnel also will be told that if they don’t have enough transportation for all the mail on a given day, ballot bags or bins will go first, she said.

Also, the U.S. Postal Service receives special funds every election year to send absentee ballots by Express Mail during the last week of the election, she said. That will start on Oct. 29 and should cut off about two days’ worth of transportation time.

It is not known how many overseas voters are able to cast absentee ballots successfully. Approximately 119,000 overseas military personnel requested absentee ballots for the 2006 election, but only about 57 percent of those were successfully cast and counted. About 900,000 ballots were requested in 2006 out of the estimated 6 million overseas military and civilian Americans.

The MPSA is recommending ballots be mailed back by voters as soon as possible, especially in war-zone locations where mail delivery can be sporadic, Johnson said.

"We’ve had [forward operating bases] where it has literally taken them three to four weeks to get mail out of theater," she said. "Not because we don’t have a robust postal network, but that commander has decided he’s in a situation where he doesn’t want things moving in and out of there. That commander decides when convoys will move."

The "nice bases" downrange with all the amenities can usually deliver a voter’s ballot to the States within a week to 10 days, she said.

"There’s a heightened sense of whenever they see a tray with a ballot on it, the tape and the tag, then that’s like ‘Hey, I gotta move this,’ " Johnson said.

Most states are mailing absentee ballots to voters anywhere from 25 days to 50 days before election day. Most states require ballots to be returned or postmarked by Nov. 4 or shortly thereafter.

In an abundance of caution, the MPSA is warning overseas military voters to plan for their ballot to take up to 30 days each way, especially if troops are at austere bases downrange or on Navy ships.

Different states have different dates for when they mail out and accept completed ballots, Johnson said, and a unit’s voting assistance officer can help voters determine their home state’s specific requirements.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Sinabaldi works the mail room for the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England.

Folks transferring to other bases this summer need to make sure they notify their election officials of their address change, he said.

"That’s one of our biggest issues," Sinabaldi said. "If you just leave without giving us an address, what are we supposed to do?"

Absentee ballot recommendations

Following are recommendations for requesting and returning an absentee ballot for overseas voters:

Overseas military voters should check with their last county of residence in the States to ensure election officials have their current mailing address.The Military Postal Service Agency is recommending that deployed overseas military voters contact their county’s election officials no later than Aug. 7 to submit registration and ballot request forms, known as the Federal Post Card Application. Those living overseas who are not deployed for the wars should send their FPCA by Aug. 14. States have different deadlines for accepting absentee ballots.Ballots should be mailed back to home counties no later than Oct. 7 for those deployed to war zones, and Oct. 14 for those living overseas.Both the Defense Department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program Web site, www.fvap.gov, and www.overseasvotefoundation.org offer online options for requesting an absentee ballot from your given county. Voters can print and mail it to the relevant address.Voters who are deployed to a war zone and already registered in the States but who don’t receive an absentee ballot by Sept. 30 should use the emergency Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which is available for all federal elections. Some states allow a FWAB for state elections as well. If you are overseas but not deployed, fill out and mail the FWAB by Oct. 7. A copy of the ballot can be found at the www.fvap.gov.For more information, contact your unit’s voting assistance officer or log on to www.fvap.gov or www.overseasvotefoundation.org. Both sites offer online guidance for filling out required forms. Overseasvotefoundation.org automatically prompts users for the required information, while fvap.gov offers a step-by-step instruction.Because of inconsistent mail service, troops deployed to more isolated locations should plan on a transit time of about 60 days to receive and mail back their ballot before the Nov. 4 Election Day.— Geoff Ziezulewicz


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