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Originally published October 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 16, 2008 at 3:39 PM

Live inauguration coverage: AP | Washington Post | KUOW

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U.S. is getting out vote in Afghanistan

American soldiers, aid workers and military contractors in Afghanistan are filling out absentee ballots this week and sending them back to the U.S. to be counted by election officials.

The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — American soldiers, aid workers and military contractors in Afghanistan are filling out absentee ballots this week and sending them back to the U.S. to be counted by election officials.

U.S. soldiers and citizens in Afghanistan — which has no reliable mail service — face difficulties making sure their votes get counted. But the U.S. military has made a big push this year to help soldiers request ballots, advertising the process with TV commercials, posters and ballot drives outside dining halls and recreation centers.

The top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, said he thinks this year's effort was "the most significant drive probably in our nation's history" to make sure deployed soldiers can vote.

"I've been around for 32 years and been overseas more times than I can count, and it used to be near impossible for me or my spouse to vote," said Schloesser. "We've come a heck of a long ways and we've devoted a lot of resources so U.S. military personnel can vote this year."

Schloesser said that in previous years deployed forces feared their vote would not count, but he said he hasn't seen reason to believe votes wouldn't count this election cycle.

At the main U.S. base at Bagram on Wednesday, soldiers and civilian contractors filled out ballots known as the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot. Those ballots are used when a person who has requested an absentee ballot has not received one.

"This is a great opportunity," Charles Schwan Jr., a civilian contractor who works in strategic planning for the military, said after filling out his write-in absentee ballot.

Democrats Abroad, the official Democratic Party organization for Americans living outside the United States, opened a new chapter in Afghanistan this autumn and helped dozens of Americans request ballots, said Susan Marx, the group's chairwoman.

But because almost no one in the group received a ballot back through Afghanistan's notoriously unreliable mail system, Marx this week is helping members fill out and send in the write-in absentee ballot.

Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots have to be sent in during a 30-day window before the Nov. 4 election. Most states require the ballots to be received by Election Day; others require that ballots be postmarked by Election Day.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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