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Current Mail System a Hindrance on Overseas Voting, Says Federal Official

by Wendy Innes, published
In quiet acknowledgement of the ongoing problems with both their mail system and absentee voting, the defense department announced last month that a revamp was underway to ensure that absentee voting materials reached service members and could be returned to their home states as quickly and accurately as possible. In the past, the military mail system has been a huge obstacle to allowing military members to cast their ballots.

Matt Boehmer, the director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), testified before the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on January 29 on how FVAP is working with the DoD's military postal service to improve voting opportunities for the nation's service members.

"The Military Postal Service Agency is serving as the lead agency in an effort with the Department of State and the United States Postal Service to lead an effort to modernize military mail delivery,” Boehmer said. He added that the department recognizes that the current military mail system is a hindrance to overseas American citizens and military members casting their vote.

According to the

Strategic Postal Voting Action Plan, changes to the military postal system (MPS) will include a synchronization of action plans across the services in the way that ballots are handled, reduce the number of undeliverable ballots, and improve tracking of ballots.

The plan also provides for express mail handling of general election ballots on their way back to the states. Ballots for primaries and special elections will NOT receive express mail handling. Overseas military postal facilities will be notified by the Military Postal Service Agency (MPSA) when the special Express Mail 11-DOD label can be used, which waives the signature that is usually required on express mail pieces as well as charging the DoD for the postage cost. Costs for postage prior to that date will be charged to the individual services.

The Strategic Postal Voting Action plan states that their goal, is to "Provide expedited processing, transportation, distribution, and tracking of absentee ballots while maintaining the integrity and security of ballot movement through the Military Postal Service (MPS). The MPS will be an effective service provider focused on efficiency and responsiveness."

"The MPSA 2014 Strategic Postal Voting Action Plan reflects the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act legislation to provide accountability, safeguarding, and expeditious delivery of balloting materials to and from Military Post Offices (MPO). All U.S. citizens, with or without MPO privileges, are authorized to mail balloting material from any MPO."

Currently, there is a bill in Congress that would amend the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986 in order to improve ballot accessibility, separate of the mail system changes. The DoD supports the initiative generally, but it is not without sticking points.

According to Boehmer, the section regarding "electronic transmission" is too vague. The way the bill is currently written, it seems to mandate an entirely electronic process that wouldn't be cost effective and could pose a conflict with election rules in the 55 U.S. states and territories.

"Removing this requirement would remedy the department’s concern with this section," he said.

While these changes, and any changes, that improve ballot access for the nation's military is a good thing, it is important to understand that the changes to the military postal system only apply to federal general elections. This means that service members who wish to vote in primaries, special elections or vote on state issues, are one their own.

The Strategic Postal Voting Action Plan says voting "is one of our most important rights as U.S. Citizens. The customers we serve are making sacrifices to preserve this right; processing of absentee ballots must be given special attention." Indeed it should.

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