Voting: Postal procedures in place for 2004 election

Roger Kolkena
2nd Air Postal Squadron

The Department of Defense and postal officials are making every effort to ensure every American overseas can exercise a fundamental responsibility of citizenship – to cast their vote.

The Military Postal Service Agency and the U.S. Postal Service have devised a new process to speed the movement of overseas absentee ballots, said 1st Lt. Andrew Ignash, 2nd Air Postal Squadron postal operations chief, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. 

“The common goal of everyone in the military postal system is to provide the best service possible,” Lieutenant Ignash said. “We are dedicated to making sure that your vote counts.”

To aid in this process, stateside postmasters are working with county election officials to gather military ballots for special handling.  Postmasters Express mail those ballots to three gateway destinations: San Francisco, Miami and New York. 

“For those stationed in Europe, ballots are mailed through the New York gateway,” the lieutenant said. “USPS mail handlers promptly sort balloting matter, place it in specially marked mail trays and present it to commercial air carriers. Trays with voting materials receive priority handling from airline cargo handlers as well.”

Once in Europe, military postal personnel ensure every ballot is given priority handling as it travels to the service member, said Tech. Sgt. Craig Thomas, 2nd Air Postal Squadron postal operations specialist.

“Military postmasters report how many ballots are received from CONUS, distributed to customers, postmarked and dispatched, returned to sender and forwarded to a new address,” he said. “MPSA uses this data to measure ballot transit times and identify possible problems that could delay ballots.”

Once a citizen overseas votes, the same rapid process occurs in reverse.

“When ballots are received at the APO, a mail clerk hand-applies a legible post mark to the envelopes and places them in specially marked trays for priority transportation to the United States,” said Sergeant Thomas. “At the postal gateways, ballots enter the domestic mail flow for delivery to county election officials.” 

From Oct. 30 until Nov. 8, postal officials in New York will separate balloting materials and use Express Mail to rush ballots to county officials.

“Postal officials recommend voters mail off their ballots by Oct. 15 to assure county election officials receive them by Election Day,” Lieutenant Ignash said. “Voting officers have details about individual state rules and requirements.”

It’s important that voters ensure the return address is correct on the absentee ballot, said Sergeant Thomas.

“Customers should use their standard APO address format and never include in the address the name of the foreign country where based,” he said. “Including a foreign country name could cause mail to be routed through international mail channels.”
In addition to these measures, procedures are also in place in the event that a mail delivery failure occurs, said the lieutenant.
“The Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, SF 186, is an “emergency” ballot available to those who have met state ballot request deadlines but do not receive an absentee ballot by the third week of October,” he said. 

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure military members stationed overseas have the opportunity to vote,” Lieutenant Ignash said.  “And that their vote counts.”

More information about voting can be obtained from unit voting assistance officers, the Airman Votes Web site, located at AirmenVotes/, and The Federal Voting Assistance Program Web site at