Elections officials say overseas voters should send ballots back early in case the U.S. leaves an international mail agreement

Voters in suburban Chesterfield County cast their ballot at the Edgewater precinct, which Trump won in 2016 but Democrats took in the 2017 gubernatorial race. (Ned Oliver/Virgnia Mercury)

State elections officials have asked deployed service members and other overseas voters to submit their absentee ballots three weeks before Election Day in case the United States leaves an international postal agreement.

“It may be that mail won’t get delivered from these locations,” said Chris Piper, elections commissioner. “That obviously affects our uniformed and overseas citizens.”

Overseas absentee voters have until Oct. 29, a week before the election, to request a ballot for the Nov. 5 election. If the U.S. decides to leave the Universal Postal Union, the country may stop receiving and delivering international mail Oct. 17.

Piper told the Board of Elections this week the department has instructed registrars to reach out to people eligible to vote absentee from other countries to request and return a ballot “as soon as possible, just in case.”

In 2018, 14,259 Virginia voters requested absentee ballots because they were out of the country. Almost 150,000 ballots were returned by mail, though the state’s data doesn’t specify how many of those came from out of the country.

The Universal Postal Union is an agency of the United Nations and has been in place since 1874. The 192-country agency sets rules for international shipping. The group will meet next week in Switzerland, when the U.S. is expected to make a decision on its membership.

President Donald Trump has taken issue with some shipping rates, specifically China’s rates, and the administration suggested every country should set their own rates.

If the U.S. leaves the Union, services will begin to be impacted starting Oct. 17. The Trump administration has said if the country withdraws, it will enter agreements with individual countries for international mail services.

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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach.