If public opinion polls prove correct and Tuesday's U.S. election turns out to be extremely close, votes cast by Americans living overseas could become crucial to determining the outcome. Tens of thousands of those ballots belong to members of the U.S. military.
Nearly a half million American service personnel are based overseas. The Pentagon says it keeps no figures on the total number of those currently registered to vote but says nearly 70 percent of those stationed abroad did cast ballots in the election four years ago.
Bob Purtiman is a spokesman for the U.S. Army in Europe, which is home to some 60,000 U.S. Army personnel.
"As of today, 36,203 ballots have been mailed back to the United States from post offices throughout Army Europe and as long as they're postmarked today, they will be counted," he said.
Other ballots are being sent back to the United States by fax. Counting absentee votes could mean a delay in determining the winner in some states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, both of which could be key to determining the election.
"Fifteen states and two territories have extended the counting of ballots past election day," Mr. Purtiman said.
This year, with nearly 160,000 American service personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the issue of absentee military ballots has assumed added importance, especially in an election that polls say is extremely close.
Four years ago, absentee ballots became an issue in Florida when some 1,500 military votes from overseas were rejected because they lacked proper postmarks. A Pentagon spokeswoman says the government has received an unprecedented number of calls from military personnel as well as civilians overseas regarding ballot concerns but at this point, knows of no unresolved problems with absentee ballots.