September 01, 2020

Voting Issues for postal mail voters abroad: US Postal Service return to sender (NIXIE label)

Summary: During the 2018 general election cycle, hundreds of postal mailed ballots and other voting materials were erroneously returned to voters abroad by the USPS from International Service Centers in the US, principally the ISC in NY. The USPS was unable to explain why this material was returned to sender. 

Details: During the course of the research that Democrats Abroad conducted into this issue, we talked with Lori Gaither-Gordon from USPS (a senior consumer manager based in CT) and Lisa Del Rio Leavenworth (Inplant Support – NEA).  

Lori and Lisa were able to identify through the NIXIE label attached to each returned ballot that the International Service Center (ISC) with the highest number of letters returned was JFK.

They noted that they had had problems in the same facility with abroad materials in 2016.

They noted that they were not able to find a reason for the letters to be returned. 

They also clarified that registered mail which is registered abroad is not handled any differently from bulk mail once it reaches the US.

Following the election and into December, we continued to hear from voters about their ballots returning to them with the same NIXIE label.

We have now received information from a voter in Israel that the issue has resurfaced with a ballot mailed to NYC for the primary. Scroll below to see the example.

We are in the process of sending out a voter protection survey to all DA members to identify issues they experienced during their state primaries, and will include the NIXIE issue in the survey. We expect we will receive more examples shortly.

Other points: Based on USPS documentation, “Local election offices are requested to segregate military absentee ballots into bundles for the Chicago and Miami International Service Centers (ISC), which serve as the gateway offices for the military.” (kit600.pdf p17


  • Primary - Solve problem at JFK ISC. 
  • Secondary - Provide advice to Americans postal mailing in their ballots on how to avoid this issue if ISC logistics isn’t adjustable. 

Useful Resources:
USPS Election Mail Coordinators

USPS Information on handling election mail (pp 17-18)

Supporting 2018 story:


2020 NIXIE example - ballot sent from Tel Aviv to NYC