Why Are Fewer Military Ballots Cast in VA Elections?

Via EPEC Team Newsletter:

By EPEC Voter News Staff

Nov. 12, 2023 — Electoral Process Education Corporation (EPEC) is again raising questions about why a higher percentage of Military and Overseas ballots are failing to be counted compared to the general population in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 2023 General Election.

According to the Dept. of Elections data in the Daily Absentee Report (DAL), early voting tallies show that 13,865 voters requested what is known as UOCAVA absentee ballots (Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act for federal and state elections), which covers ballots for military, overseas and temporary overseas federal workers who are not able to vote in person.

As of Friday, Nov. 10th, the DAL record shows 7237 absentee ballots had been tabulated, with 243 listed as “provisional” and “unmarked,” and 6230 showing as issued but not returned. The deadline to receive them is three days after a general election (Nov. 7th this year). But due to the Veterans Day observance Friday, the ballots are due the following business day, Monday, Nov. 13, by noon.

If the numbers of ballots not returned holds, that would work out to a failure rate of between 46.1% and 48% (depending on how some of the ballot statuses are counted).

As it found in 2022, and as initially reported in the EPEC Team newsletter, 48% of military ballots were issued but not returned or tabulated, close to twice the failure rate of the general populations’ average of about 25%.

According to EPEC’s Senior Analyst and member of EPEC’s board of directors Rick Naigle, the DAL record shows that 46.1% of all UOCAVA voters’ ballots were not tabulated, but 67.8% of UOCAVA By Mail, voters who have no other option to vote than mail mail, were not tabulated.

By contrast, in 2022, the “By Mail” absentee voting tabulation rate for the general population was 75%. On average, three out of four by-mail were tabulated and tallied; the other 25% were in one of the various “uncounted” statuses in the DAL (Deleted, Unmarked, Issued, Provisional).

Factors likely contributing to lower success rates for Military and Overseas voters might include the following:

  • Invalid mailing addresses
  • Ineligibility to Vote
  • Insufficient lead time (between mailing out and receiving back)
  • Difficulty achieving ballot cure due to inability to contact voters in a remote overseas deployment
  • Lack of interest or awareness by the citizen voter

On this weekend’s federal observance of Veterans Day and the official Veterans Day holiday Saturday, Nov. 11, EPEC Team is asking other officials why the tabulation rate of military voters is consistently lower than the general population.



  1. REPLY
    Rick Naigle says

    Watch for an update on this topic in the near future.

    Analysis of the Virginia Early Voting process using data from the 15 November 2023 Daily Absentee List – 962786 applications were submitted, 957077 were approved (99.4% approval rate). The number of approved applications exceeded the number of voters – 939189 – due to application errors by voters and multiple approval errors by election officials. All 939189 voters had at least ONE application approved – 100% success rate.

    Eighty-eight percent of the applicants (826941 voters, 88.0% of the total applicants) successfully cast 826941 ballots – 551347 in person, 275594 by mail.

    Slightly more than one percent of the voters – 12897 voters (1.3%) cast ballots which had not yet been adjudicate. Of these, 9712 were by mail ballots requiring cure or which were uncountable for other reasons, and 3185 provisional ballots.

    More than ten percent of the applicants (99351, or 10.6% of the voters) had uncountable ballots. There were 122948 uncountable ballots for a variety of reasons. 91664 ballots were issued but not returned. 30561 were deleted – typically due to voter or election staff errors resulting in issuance of a replacement ballot. 602 were received Late (of these, 2 were received on 26 October so they should not have been considered Late). 115 ballots were approved but not issued. 6 ballots were in a cancelled status.

    Looking only at By Mail early voting, there were an estimated 387842 approved voters. 275594 voters successfully cast ballots (71.1%). 12897 had ballots requiring adjudication (3.3%), and 99351 voters (25.6%) failed to get their ballots tabulated (91664 failed to return their ballots).

    The overall By Mail voter “failure rate” will be somewhere between 25.6% and 29.9% – probably close to 27% of the approved By Mail voters failed.

    We looked at Military, Overseas, and Temporary – Federal Only voters (UOCAVA) vs all others (NON-UOCAVA).

    There are a relatively small number of UOCAVA voters – 14255 voters. Of these, 7784 are Military, 6433 are Overseas, and 38 are Temporary – Federal Only. Of these, about 4443 voted In Person.

    About 10190 had to rely on the absentee By Mail process. The overall failure rate for UOCAVA voters was almost 70% – 3 in 10 succeeded in getting their ballot tabulated.

    Temporary – Federal Only BY MAIL voters fared the worst within this group. Their failure rate was 96% (1 out of 24 absentee By Mail voters had ballots counted).

    Overseas voters also had bad results. About 6063 Overseas applicants had no ballot counted (73% of the Overseas applicants). Another 40 (roughly 1%) of the Overseas voters had ballots remaining to be adjudicated.

    Military voted did better, but the results were still abysmal. There were roughly 4104 Military absentee BY MAIL voters. 2583 failed (63%) – mostly because they failed to return ballots. Another 204 Military voters (5%) have ballots being adjudicated. 32% (1314) successfully cast ballots.

    We think there is a hand-off issue between the US Postal Service and Military postal units. We also think there may be absentee ballot mailing address errors which are causing delivery errors or mailing delays. A root cause analysis needs to be performed. A 25% success rate for UOCAVA voters is unacceptable.

  2. REPLY
    Rick Naigle says

    Military Voters overall failed to have their by-mail ballots tabulated 80% of the time (1 in 5 voted successfully).

    The high absentee By Mail failure rate for Military voters is most likely attributable military postal unit failures, or there is an issue with transferring mail between US Postal Service and Department of Defense postal units.

    The main Services Academies, Army, Navy, and Air Force, are serviced by DOD postal units.

    Faculty and Cadets at West Point (US Military Academy) failed 70% of the time (3 in 10 voted successfully).

    Faculty and Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy failed 61% of the time (2 in 5 voted successfully).

    Faculty and Cadets at the US Air Force Academy failed 79% of the time (1 in 5 voted successfully).

    Having been stations at several Army installations within the Continental United States (CONUS), I thought I would compare the success rates for On Post / On Base with Local Area Military. I was stationed at several Army bases – Fort Benning (renamed Fort Moore) GA, Fort Bragg (renamed Fort Liberty) NC, and Fort Lewis (renamed Joint Base Lewis-McChord) WA, so I am familiar with the local areas near the military installations.

    Looking at Fort Bragg / Fort Liberty By Mail success versus the surrounding Fayetteville area, 50% of the on post voters failed (1 in 2 voted successfully). Military living off post had a 35% failure rate (13 in 20 voted successfully).

    Fort Benning / Fort Moore had a 83% failure rate on post (1 in 5 voted successfully). Military voters living off post had a 60% failure rate (2 in 5 voted successfully).

    Fort Lewis / Joint Base Lewis McChord had a 100% failure rate on post. Military voters living off post had a 33% failure rate (2 in 3 voted successfully).

    I am starting to look at failure rate by Absentee Ballot Zip Code. More to follow.

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