Although final tallies will not be counted for three months, voters in the military communities of Europe and the Middle East appear to have voted at lower rates this year than overall overseas military personnel did in 2000.

More than 5,000 last-minute ballots were mailed from U.S. post offices in Europe, according to figures released Tuesday by the Air Force, Army and Navy. As of Election Day, 88,788 ballots had been mailed from APO and FPO address in Europe, up 5,250 from Thursday.

The Air Force mailed 42,130 ballots, the Army mailed 36,203 and the Navy, 10,455. The eligible pool of military and depending voters in Europe is about 150,000 people, meaning roughly 59 percent of eligible voters mailed back ballots for this year’s election.

The number would not include any e-mail or fax ballots that some states allow.

In 2000, after the Federal Voting Assistance Program spent $35 million in a “Get Out the Vote” campaign, participation in the presidential elections among uniformed citizens stationed overseas reached 69 percent, according to the 16th annual Federal Voting Assistance Program report, issued by the Pentagon in December 2001.

The 2000 military overseas voting rate represented a 5 percentage point increase in uniformed overseas participation over the 1996 election, the report said.

Among federal civilian employees overseas in 2000, meanwhile, voting participation was 65 percent.

The general U.S. public voting rate in 2000 was 51 percent.

The U.S. Postal Service and Department of Defense officials said in June that overseas servicemembers should cast their absentee ballots no later than Oct. 11.

Mideast turnout lower

As of last week, only about 25 percent of eligible voters deployed to the Middle East had sent in ballots, a voting assistance officer in Kuwait said. In the Central Command’s theater of operations, 48,935 ballots were mailed as of Oct. 26.

Lt. Col. Korya James, a voting assistance officer in Kuwait who compiled the numbers, referred all questions this week regarding the ballots to the public affairs officers at CENTCOM’s headquarters in Florida, who referred Stripes back to Coalition Forces Land Component Command in Kuwait.

“We do not have specific numbers for you at this time,” said Army Maj. Martin Downie, a spokesman at CFLCC.

Some troops serving in the war in Iraq — this year’s hottest election topic — say the military emphasized absentee voting, but some got their ballots late in the race. Others are still receiving them.

Spc. Ivan Burden, however, was proactive. He works in an International Zone post office himself, and didn’t want to take any chances.

“I found it very easy,” Burden said. “I actually voted when I was home on leave.”

“That’s cheating,” interrupted another postal soldier, Spc. Zach Powers. He never got his ballot.

“We’re still receiving absentee ballots,” Powers said. “Ballots are the most important thing in the postal system right now. They take priority over everything.”

Military absentee ballots, and whether they were postmarked on time, became a front line battle in the legal chaos that followed the 2000 election.

Soldiers said that first sergeants and company commanders had been getting the word out to troops to vote.

“We are party neutral, if you will, but for us it’s important to make sure that every servicemember has the ability to vote in their local, state and federal elections,” said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq. “How they vote and whether they vote is up to them.”

For some, the ballot wait led to creativity.

“I voted, but it took a little while for my absentee ballot to get here,” said Pfc. Joseph Rogers of the 89th Military Police Brigade at Camp Victory.

“So I had a buddy who was going home on leave mail it for me. I’ve got a buddy who got his yesterday.”

One soldier said that requesting a ballot early was the best tack.

“For me, it was pretty easy,” said Sgt. Christian Hughes of the Washington Army National Guard. “I had it a few months ago. I think it depends on when they requested it.”

Some soldiers simply chose not to cast their ballots.

“I would have voted if it was easier, myself,” said Pfc. Sherwin James, deployed to Logistics Support Area Anaconda.

Other soldiers agreed.

Pfc. Aaron O’Hara with B Co. of the 84th Engineer Battalion from Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, also at Anaconda, said although his squad leader explained the process, it was too much effort to apply for a ballot. He didn’t vote. If his unit handed out ballots, he would have, he added.

“I guess I’m too lazy,” he said.

Staff writers Ward Sanderson and Juliana Gittler contributed to this report.

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