At least one major instance of missing overseas military ballots —
involving the votes of some 3,000 sailors and Marines — appears to be
on its way to resolution.

WorldNetDaily reported yesterday
that a source on the USS Tarawa, a U.S. Navy assault ship near Yemen, said that “thousands” of absentee ballots were languishing onboard.

The Navy has now confirmed bundles of overseas ballots left behind — not on one, but three ships in the Persian Gulf region. According to a

New York Post
account, Cmdr. Greg Smith, a Navy spokesman, said the ballots of some 3,000 sailors and Marines on the USS Tarawa, USS Duluth and USS Anchorage would be flown back to the United States “expeditiously.”

Before the discovery of missing Navy ballots, Defense Department spokesman Kenneth Bacon and Navy Lt. Dave Gai had both criticized WorldNetDaily — Bacon publicly at a press briefing — for its reporting on this issue. Bacon referred to WND’s

initial story
as “ludicrous” for reporting that some servicemen and women suspect the Clinton administration may have somehow purposely delayed sending absentee ballots to military personnel overseas because most historically vote Republican. Gai, the Pentagon spokesman quoted in two of WND’s stories, had previously said he was “not aware of any large-scale problems.” Nevertheless, the newssite’s reports caught the attention of Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., who is now

calling for a
congressional investigation
into the issue.

In yesterday’s WND report, Oregonian Judy Krutsinger, whose brother-in-law is stationed onboard the Tarawa, said that although the Pentagon had reportedly contacted Florida election officials to inform them that mail from all area warships had been picked up Nov. 7, her relative aboard the Tarawa denied that.

“We e-mailed [him] aboard ship about that. … [H]e e-mailed back saying [the mailbags] are still onboard,” Krutsinger told WorldNetDaily. She said the mail was contained in orange bags on 17 pallets and that “ballots were not separated from regular mail, as they should have been.”

A United Press International account reported comments from a Marine Corps captain from the Tarawa who helped evacuate the dead and injured from the USS Cole after it was attacked by terrorists on Oct. 12.

Capt. Van P. Brinson, who did not receive his absentee ballot, wrote in a Nov. 8 e-mail: “I cannot speak for the remainder of the crew of the Tarawa, but I do know that the majority of the Marines and sailors that I have spoken with are in the same boat. What is distressing about the situation,” he added, “is that a majority of the pilots aboard are registered voters in Florida.”

Florida law requires that overseas ballots be postmarked by Election Day, and Friday midnight is the deadline for the state’s 67 counties to receive them.

Now that the large cache of ballots has been found, “all we’re trying to do is see if there’s a way to get the mail there,” Smith said in the Post story.

Smith explained that the reason the shipboard mail was forgotten was because the three West Coast-based ships were preoccupied assisting the stricken Cole after it was bombed last month.

Once someone realized that the mail contained time-sensitive ballots — whose importance is now increased dramatically because of the historically close race — the Navy agreed to fly the ballots to the U.S. post haste.

Meanwhile, stateside, the U.S. Postal Service says it is fast-tracking military overseas ballots destined for Florida — promising to get them to the 67 county election departments the same day they arrive in the U.S., the Post reported.

The ballots are being processed by postal employees at the Air Mail Center near Miami International Airport, according to an

Press report,
where all overseas military mail sent to the United States arrives.

Ballots destined for South Florida counties are being driven to the appropriate post offices for same-day delivery, while those earmarked for north and central Florida counties are flown to regional mail centers, then forwarded to the local post office for delivery to election officials.

According to the AP story, as of Monday the postal service had delivered 446 military overseas ballots to Florida since Nov. 8. An unofficial Associated Press survey of 64 of Florida’s 67 election supervisors showed that more than 19,300 overseas ballots had been mailed from the state. While over 10,000 had been returned — and most of those already counted — officials could not say how many ballots were still outstanding.

Many service personnel and their families have complained to WorldNetDaily that their

ballots were sent to them by fourth class
“bulk mail”
— which can delay delivery by a month or more — instead of first class. Many others claim they never received their ballots at all.

For those stationed on the Cole, Duluth and Anchorage, at least, their votes seem to be on their way home.

“We understand the urgency of this situation and realize that the entire presidential election could rest on these ballots,” said postal service spokeswoman Enola C. Rice yesterday, said the AP report.

Read Joseph Farah’s column today,

“Those missing military

Related stories:

Military anguishes over missing ballots

Will Congress probe military-ballot snafu?

Bacon denies WND military-ballot report

Military missing absentee ballots

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