Plane Crash Destroys Unknown Number of Overseas Military Ballots at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

All Destroyed Mail from APO AE 09382

Now we’ve heard everything.

military ballots lost in plane crashAs if the government’s questionable track record of failing to ensure deployed servicemembers have their votes counted wasn’t embarrassing enough as it is, federal officials are now saying that some 4,700 pounds of mail were destroyed in a plane crash at Shindand Air Base on October 19th, according to an Associated Press report.

It is not known how many ballots were on board. The AP reports that all the mail lost was from a single zip code – apparently not understanding that that zip code, 09382, is actually an APO zip code serving Shindand, Farah, and Camp Stone, or Herat.

That complicates the effort because the potentially destroyed ballots cannot be limited to a single county elections office stateside; the troops deployed would have homes of record from all over the country. If they already voted, they would have no immediate way of ensuring their votes were received and counted in their home counties in time to influence the election.

The deadline under federal law for county commissioners to mail these ballots to overseas military absentee voters was nearly a month prior to the crash, on September 21. So it is very likely that any ballots on board would already have been filled out, and were on their way back to the United States. This further complicates the effort to discover what ballots may have been missing initially, because simply asking troops whether they received their ballots a few weeks ago does no good if they were destroyed on the way back home.

What to Do if Your Ballot May Have Been Destroyed

The Federal Voting Assistance Project advises the following:

All military and overseas voters who have not received requested ballots from their local election official yet are strongly encouraged to fill out the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) at and return it as soon as possible. All military and overseas voters who have received a requested ballot from their local election official should complete it and return it as soon as possible.

If you receive your State ballot after submitting the FWAB, vote and return the State ballot as well. You will only receive one vote as the State will only count your FWAB if the State ballot is not received by the deadline. If your State ballot is received by the deadline your State ballot will be counted and the FWAB will be disregarded.

DoD Fails to Comply With Military Overseas Voter Empowerment Act

Perhaps there may have been an additional layer of accountability possible had the Department of Defense fully complied with the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act, which directed the Secretary of Defense to ensure that there was a military voter assistance office established on every overseas military installation (outside of an immediate combat zone.)

A military inspector general found in an August 31 report that the Department of Defense had done so on only about half of the bases it was required to by law.

Furthermore, the implementation of the voter assistance program at the DoD was so haphazard and chaotic that the inspector general was unable even to get a comprehensive list of installations that supposedly had voter assistance offices established at all (see page 29 of the IG’s report).

The IG was unable to locate any voter assistance office at Shindand Air Base.

Federal officials have sent an advisory email to the various state secretaries of state and county elections officials. While the total number of ballots lost in the fire is not known, the breakdown in accountability may provide a ready-made source of enough found ballots to swing at least one election in a tight race.

According to a recent survey from Military Times, military voters are expected to support Governor Romney over the president by a margin of 2-1.


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5 responses to “Plane Crash Destroys Unknown Number of Overseas Military Ballots at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan”

  1. Onat Shindand says:

    As Someone who is on Shindand, your entire article is based on crap, and is a bunch of fear-mongering garbage. The plane crashed on landing, not on take off, so all the ballots that were going out actually went out. The mail started up again here 2 days later, so no one would have been short on time, we get mail here from the states in less than a week. And despite the IG said in August, there’s over a dozen voting assistance officer here now. If you’re going to report the story, report the whole damn story. 

  2. mbenett says:

    I agree with last comment. stationed at Shindand as well.

  3. Hello, and thanks for the response. 
    Look carefully, though… at the time the piece was written, the DoD had not released the full story. The information available was imperfect, and it was the DoD themselves who didn’t know whether there were ballots on the plane. That was their own statement, and they may have not had all the information either. The DoD is a long way from Afghanistan. The first thing I tried to determine from the information the DoD had made public at the time was whether the plane had crashed on takeoff or landing, and what other stops it may have made at OCONUS locations on the way to Shindand. Even had the DoD clarified that the plane had crashed on departure, I’d still have to rule out the possibility that the plane had made other stops and picked up mail prior to arriving at Shindand.  
    So there was a reason I presented things as I did.  
    DoD was vague on that, too, so I left it in there. 
    However, as you confirm, the plane crashed on landing. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the plane had not picked up any mail from elsewhere prior to crashing at Shindand. You STILL have the problem of an unknown number of ballots that may have been arriving, in the mail.  
    The AP reported that all the mail was FROM the Shindand APO address. not TO it. So I had to take some conflicting information into account. I cited the AP for their reporting, but I was the one who noticed that the zip code they identified was an APO, not a stateside zip.  
    And since neither you nor the DoD can rule out the possibility that some quantity of late-mailed absentee ballots were on that plane, the advice from the Voter Assistance Project to get a FWAB and local provisional ballot stands.  
    Happy to know there are a dozen voting assistance centers in there now. However, look at what I wrote: The IG could not find a voting assistance center at Shindand when he investigated last summer. I posted a link to that. I made no assertion about whether there was a Voter Assistance Center at Shindand. Only that the IG couldn’t find one. That, too is correct.  
    Further, according to the DoD’s own IG report, the Voter Assistance Office problem is rather larger than just at Shindand, with as many as 50 percent of the offices required by law missing in action as far as the IG found. Furthermore, a DoD spokesperson even admitted they had not set up the voter assistance offices on OCONUS military stations as required by law, saying they believed doing it digitally would be more efficient. (We’ve written about that on as well). 
    If you want to correct a factual error, I’m happy to publish a correction, and certainly more information has come to light. But I’m not going to bury the story while the electoral clock is ticking because the DoD is slow to publish, or because information is 100 percent complete. I wanted to get the Voter Assistance Project’s advice disseminated as soon as possible, so readers still had time to obtain the ballots they needed and get them through the mail to their county elections officials in time to vote.  
    Thanks for the response and clarification, though, and I’m glad your local commanders have stood up the voting assistance offices, whether it happened before or after the IG published their report.  
    Take care,  

  4. Apalmer says:

    According to several senators there are many voting assistance centers that are set up in name only, are not staffed or understaffed and some bases don’t have them at all. 
    Senator Cornyn wrote several letters to the DoD on blank ballots not being delivered and the issue with not complying to the federal law to have Voter Assistance Offices available on all bases.  

  5. Dennie says:

    Thanks for the information Jason!

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