Why the Universal Postal Union is vital to military and overseas voters
By: Mary Hall

Friday, September 13, 2019


During every election, a portion of the ballots we mail go overseas. But if the United States pulls out of an international treaty, getting those ballots to voters and back to us might become a difficult task.

Our entire system of making sure overseas voters receive their ballots depends on an international agreement that most of us have never heard of, the Universal Postal Union (UPU). For nearly 150 years, most of the world has been connected by the UPU. It ensures every nation will deliver mail from other countries.

That interconnected network of postal systems managed by the UPU is vitally important to our overseas voters.

The 1980 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) requires local election officials like me to send ballots to overseas voters for federal elections. We have a similar law in Washington for state and local elections.

In Thurston County, these ballots largely go to servicemembers and their families. The military community is a large part of Thurston County, with a quarter of the 26,000 servicemembers stationed at Joint Base Lewis McCord making their homes here. When they are stationed overseas, it is our job to make sure their ballots follow them.

Because overseas voters need more time to receive and return their ballots, we send these ballots 45 days before we send out ballots to local voters. In a countywide election, we mail over 8,000 overseas ballots.

And despite that, some of our voters still don't have time to get their ballots back to us by Election Day. I've even had to work with our congressional delegation to arrange for a diplomatic pouch to get a ballot back in time!

My staff works one-on-one with voters to ensure they can download their ballots if necessary, but not all overseas voters have access to reliable technology.

Unfortunately, the United States' involvement in this century-old international treaty is at risk, which in turn puts our overseas service-members' votes at risk.

The only alternative to the simple and effective UPU compact would be a series of bilateral agreements with each of the almost 200 countries. Negotiating these agreements would be a complicated process and much more expensive than continuing with the current system. At worst, these one-on-one agreements would complicate the current simple system of international mail.

Building as much dependability as possible into the system is vital when time of the essence. Any delay could prevent a ballot from being received in time to be counted.

Overseas voters deserve to have their voices heard and they depend on UPU to make that happen.

Here is more information on this important topic:

This video explains how important and how intricate the UPU really is. Replacing this complicated and interwoven system with one-on-one agreements would take years. In the meantime, the votes of our overseas citizens would unnecessarily be threatened.

Here is an article that gives specific information about how the UPU protects military voters and families.