In a typical year, absentee military voters face disproportionate challenges to the ballot box. In 2020, the complications of a worldwide pandemic and slower USPS delivery times created even more challenges to successfully casting our ballots. We have gathered and are sharing some stories of these unique pain points for military family voters.
Secure Families Initiative is, at its core, focused on telling the stories of military partners and families. The fact is that most Americans don’t have a personal connection to today’s military and, together, we can all play a role in filling that void.
Sharing our #MilSpouseVote stories is no different. When we share our experiences, we can shed light on the confusing and often frustrating process.
Increased Voter Turnout
First things first, let’s celebrate our successes this election season! Across the country, voters turned out in record numbers, and we know military voters were part of this historic moment. Anecdotally, we heard from the US Vote Foundation that both FVAP and Overseas Vote saw large increases in their website traffic compared to previous years.
Additionally, the Military Postal Service said usage of their special ballot return labels increased approximately 50% this year. These are both great indications of large voting turnout in our community!
2020 Military Voting Stories
We asked our community to share struggles from voting this year and were overwhelmed with the response. In the interest of transparency and to help the public understand, we are sharing some of the stories we received. These are only a few examples of the hundreds of thousands of military family voters, but they are illustrative of the struggle and extra burden our community faces.
[Editor’s Note: These stories were submitted to SFI. Some have been altered slightly for clarity or brevity.]
Caitlin votes in Illinois, lives in Hawaii, and doesn’t know if her vote was counted.
After being purged from the registered voter list (without being notified) during the primaries, I requested new registration and an absentee ballot in September via FVAP. My absentee ballot was sent, and it made it all the way from Chicago to Honolulu before being returned to Chicago with no explanation, never even making it to Maui.
I then filled out and printed the electronic version of the ballot and sent it on the same date and time as my husband’s ballot. His arrived at the BOE on October 28, and though I called every 3 days until the election, mine was never located. I ended up paying $37 to send a backup ballot on November 3. I am still not sure if it has been received or counted.
Elaine votes in Texas, lives in Japan, and doesn’t know if her vote was counted.
My family is currently stationed in Japan and our home of record is Bell County, TX. We received our ballots via email without issue but noticed issues when we mailed them off. We mailed off our ballots at the end of September to avoid any problems, but soon noticed our tracking number never showed our ballots as delivered, but instead listed an ‘Alert.’ (You can still see when you look up the tracking number.)
Unfortunately, this was not a surprise as the USPS offices in Bell County have made news headlines with ongoing congressional investigations about how they have repeatedly mishandled and failed to deliver mail. I had hoped with the scrutiny of this year’s election they would be more careful, but was disappointed.
Mary votes in Georgia, lives in Germany, and doesn’t know if her vote was counted.
I applied for an absentee ballot in June or July. I sent the request via mail. The absentee ballot never arrived. I called the voting office and they told me to fill out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) which included a new request form and send it in. I received an email stating that my FWAB could not be processed without the request form and to send it in ASAP. Well, I live in Germany and knew it wouldn’t get back in time for the election. So I emailed the form (which I’ve filled out multiple times) back. I do not have confirmation if they have received my form or will accept it via email. I worked hard to vote but I think it looks like my vote won’t be counted.
Megan votes in Florida, lives in Kentucky, and did not successfully vote in the election.
We have voted absentee every election for the past 12 years because my husband is active duty stationed out of state. This year I’ve spent the last 2 months requesting my ballot from Broward County in FL only for it to be cancelled with no explanation. I’ve emailed and called to no avail. I was never given a reason for the cancellation and never had any issues in the past. I’ve spoken with other spouses and active duty members who have similar stories.
Miranda votes in North Carolina, lives in Germany, and did not successfully vote in the election.
My husband and I registered to vote via absentee ballots on 10/08/2020, and we still have not received ours. Nobody will answer our emails about the missing ballots, so we missed all deadlines to vote even though we applied a month in advance.
Rebecca votes in Pennsylvania, lives in Texas, and doesn’t know if her vote was counted.
My husband is in the Army, and we are stationed in Fort Bliss, TX currently. We just moved here at the end of September, and we sent the Federal Post Card Applications for absentee ballots as soon as we found a home and had an address (which was at the beginning of October). We still have not received our absentee ballots. For the past two weeks, I have called the elections office in Butler County several times a day. The calls would go to voicemail, but the mailbox was full so I was unable to leave a message. On one of those days, I had the time to just keep calling until someone answered, and a man finally did. He told me that they were all working overtime to get the absentee ballots out and that they should have them all out by the end of the week (that was last week ending 10/23). He told me everything was so backed up due to the recent Supreme Court case about mail–in and absentee voting in PA.
I waited until Monday of the next week to see if I got a ballot, and when I still had not received one, I tried calling again. The issue this time was the same as last time where the mailbox was full and no one was answering. I called between five and eight times every day that week. Of all those calls, I was only able to leave a voicemail twice with the promise that they would call back within 24 hours. I also sent emails to two different email addresses with no response. I was starting to get extremely frustrated and worried that we wouldn’t get our ballots in time.
I want to trust the system and believe that it’s not intentional, and that we just have an incompetent system for absentee voting, but it has been almost impossible for me to get help from anyone! Yesterday morning, I was looking into filling out the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot, when I finally received a call from the Butler County elections office. A very nice lady took our names and address and said she would overnight the ballots to us. She said we will most likely not receive them until Saturday, October 31. We did not receive our ballots. Instead, we filled out the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot and paid FedEx almost $50 to deliver them by Election Day.
Sarah votes in New Mexico, lives in Nevada, and doesn’t know if her vote was counted.
I called New Mexico on August 24th to request the paperwork to change my mailing address. I received it in early September, filled it out and mailed it back. The ballots were to be mailed out on October 6th. On October 15th, I called to make sure everything was ok because I still hadn’t received my ballot. I was told it had been mailed on the 6th and if I hadn’t received it by the 20th to call back. I called on the 21st. That’s when they realized they had either not updated the system with my new address or never received my paperwork because the absentee ballot was mailed to my old address.
A woman in the office emailed me the paperwork again, I filled it out and sent it back so she could mail me another ballot. I received my absentee ballot on October 29th. I immediately filled it out and drove it to the post office even though it was after hours. I’m worried that this will all be in vain since it says that it must be received by the 3rd at 7:00 PM to count. It has 4 days to arrive in time.
Kristen votes in Texas, lives in New Mexico, and did not successfully vote in the election.
My husband and I requested our ballots at the end of September and still have not received a ballot as of October 30. We are a military family currently stationed in New Mexico and we are both registered to vote in Fort Bend County in Houston. This is the second election we’ve missed. Last time we were stationed overseas in Germany and didn’t receive those either. Very frustrating to our military community.
This is my first time absentee voting, and it has been a horrendous experience. Maybe next time we won’t be in the middle of a move so I can apply for a ballot months in advance. Either way, I do hope the process gets better, or maybe better resources will be available, especially for military votes.
Nicole votes in Arizona, lives in California and successfully voted in the election.
I never received my absentee ballot by mail and it was a very long, arduous process that required an extreme amount of follow-up to cast my ballot. I am an Arizona voter and I moved to California in 2019. This is my first year voting by mail. I had no problems voting by mail in the 2020 Primary, but my address changed between primary and the general election. I updated my address after sending back my ballot for the primary through an electronic form, on July 28. I have an e-mail confirmation of this.
Because of volunteering with Secure Families Initiative, I know military ballots should have been mailed by September 19, so early September I went online to confirm my address on file. When I looked it up, it only reflected my Arizona address, not my correct California mailing address. I submitted yet another request on the website, only this time the webpage looked different. October 3rd, I still had not received my military ballot. I looked up my voting address again, and saw that nothing had changed! As I did more digging around on the website I found SEVERAL DIFFERENT pages to update addresses and request a mail ballot. I submitted this request on the various locations, but eventually came across the UOCAVA portal. This finally reflected an address change.
On October 7, Arizona mailed out the first batch of ballots (after the military ballots in September). I checked online and it showed my ballot was mailed that day. The address reflected on my UOCAVA portal was the correct California address. By October 19th, I still had not received my ballot by mail. I called the County Recorder’s Office and waited on hold for over an hour before finally speaking with someone that could help a military absentee voter. They confirmed my ballot had been mailed on October 7 to my correct address and that I should receive it that week. If I don’t receive it soon, they could “void” my mail ballot and send me an electronic ballot. (Fortunately, Arizona offers an electronic ballot option for UOCAVA voters.) The electronic ballot would require me to print it off, sign it, and scan it or fax it back in. I do not have a printer, scanner, or fax, so I (regrettably) opted to wait a few more days for my ballot by mail.
On October 22nd, I decided to move forward with the electronic ballot and contacted the office again via email as instructed. On October 23rd at 5:00pm they responded to the email saying they would be mailing me a new ballot to the address on file. Obviously worried this would not be enough time to receive the mail ballot and return (advised return date was October 26th!), I responded to the email and asked AGAIN for an electronic ballot. On Sunday, October 25th, they emailed me an electronic ballot. I printed it off and scanned it in on Monday, October 26th. I was able to confirm on their website that my ballot was counted.
At Secure Families Initiative, we believe that military spouses and family members should make our votes and voices heard on the matters that impact us most. YOU can help us educate and empower military families to advocate for our community by making a donation today.