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BPC Elections Project Concerned about Possible US Withdrawal from Universal Postal Union

Headshot of Ari Goldberg
Ari Goldberg

Washington, D.C. – On October 17th, the United States is scheduled to withdraw from the Universal Postal Union, the international organization that governs the rates countries charge for mail receipt and delivery. Withdrawal from the Universal Postal Union will impact the ability of millions American citizens living and serving abroad to receive and cast a ballot in state and local elections in November 2019, as well as during the primary and general elections in 2020.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is calling on election officials and lawmakers to take immediate action to assess the impact on overseas voters in your jurisdictions.

The conflict over U.S. membership in the Universal Postal Union stems from a dispute over discounted rates charged on Chinese packages shipped to the United States. 192 countries are members of the Universal Postal Union, and withdrawal will require the United States to negotiate postal rates for international mail exchange between national postal agencies and to agree to bilateral agreements with each.

Matthew Weil, director of BPC’s Elections Project, says:

“More than 3 million American citizens living and serving overseas are eligible to vote, and most who vote return their ballots through the physical mail stream. They already face obstacles such as transport time and distance, unreliable mail service, and censorship from foreign governments.


“Withdrawing from the UPU will make it even more challenging to ensure their votes count.


“In addition to time delays and access concerns, voters could face significant costs to casting a ballot. Shipping ballots through private alternatives to national mail services like UPS and FedEx could cost voters as much as $30 or $70 – and it’s not certain whether states will even allow ballots received from private mail carriers to be counted.


“Withdrawal on October 17th is not certain yet, and the final opportunity for the United States to persuade the Universal Postal Union to adjust terminal dues on countries like China will take place during an Extraordinary Congress on September 24-26. While we will know for certain at that time whether the U.S. will proceed with withdrawal, it may be too late to prevent confusion during local and state elections in 2019.


“Election administrators are required by law to send ballots to overseas voters 45 days prior to an election, which in 2019 falls on September 21, three days before the Extraordinary Congress. It is possible that, after mail ballots have been sent, the landscape of international mail will change.


“Elections officials and lawmakers should take immediate steps to assess the impact of withdrawal on their jurisdictions’ voters by determining the number and locations of local voters covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and developing contingency plans for delivering and receiving their absentee ballots.”