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USPS Leaving International Mail Union Set to Disrupt U.S. Elections

U.S. military and citizens abroad might soon have to pay $60 to mail an absentee ballot.

Pam Baker

August 26, 2019

3 Min Read
US Mailboxes

U.S. military and citizens living or working overseas might soon find postage costs an expensive obstacle for submitting an absentee ballot. Jared Dearing, state election director in Kentucky, says the United States Postal Service (USPS) plans to pull out of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which could cause international mailing costs for a U.S. ballot to top $60.

Dearing voiced his concerns at the recent EAC’s Election Security Forum. He said he would be required to send out ballots prior to a final USPS determination on leaving the union. According to the Department of Defense Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), as amended by the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, requires absentee ballots be sent to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before a federal election.

“How do we get word out to voters that if this ballot comes to you now and you do not submit it within weeks, it could cost you $60 to mail it — and that is if they agree to deliver it in the first place?” said Dearing.

The USPS confirmed it’s planning to withdraw from the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the primary cooperation forum between postal services in its 192 member countries. In other words, it’s the UPU that keeps postage between countries at reasonable rates and provides for delivery via mutual agreements.

The beef between the U.S. and the UPU appears to center on the terminal dues system, which is how postal services pay each other for international mail deliveries. The USPS finds in its report that the global terminal dues system doesn’t fully compensate the USPS for actual domestic processing and delivery costs.

“While the United States is preparing to leave the UPU in October, if a solution can be found that eliminates the economic distortion caused by the current terminal dues system on U.S. businesses, then the United States will continue its participation in the UPU,” said Martha (Marti) Johnson, USPS spokesperson in Washington, D.C.

“Because the U.S. may no longer be a member of the UPU by mid-October, the Postal Service is undertaking parallel efforts to ensure the continued exchange of international mail items even if the negotiations to remain in the UPU are unsuccessful,” said Johnson. “This includes addressing and prioritizing military mailing issues.”

Johnson declined to elaborate or define what those “parallel efforts” are, whether they could be operational in time for the 2020 U.S. presidential election, or what they might cost voters abroad.

“This gives me great concern about my overseas voters and voters abroad. It grieves me to think that I have military voters who are protecting our right to vote but might not be able to mail their ballot in,” said Dearing.

Dearing asked EAC commissioners to help resolve the issue.

“If there is anything that can be done to intervene on some level, maybe provide guidance to the states,” Dearing said. “If there is anything you can do for guidance on how we should treat this and how we should notify voters of how they can fully involve themselves in the voting experience, in making sure their ballots count, that would be of immense value.”

The EAC commissioners didn’t immediately comment on or respond to his request.

It was unclear whether the technology community is getting involved to help find a solution or at least provide an electronic alternative to mailed ballots. If vendors are going to step up, they would have to do so quickly in order to have time to be certified by the EAC prior to election dates.

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About the Author(s)

Pam Baker

A prolific writer and analyst, Pam Baker’s published work appears in many leading print and online publications including Security Boulevard, PCMag, Institutional Investor magazine, CIO, TechTarget, Linux.com and InformationWeek, as well as many others. Her latest book is “Data Divination: Big Data Strategies.” She’s also a popular speaker at technology conferences as well as specialty conferences such as the Excellence in Journalism events and a medical research and healthcare event at the NY Academy of Sciences.

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