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Former Military Leaders Urge Patience As Absentee Ballots Are Counted

FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Postal Service post office in Philadelphia on August 14, 2020.
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Postal Service post office in Philadelphia on August 14, 2020.

As the focus shifts to slim margins in a handful of states, the military absentee ballot is getting more attention in the Presidential Election.

President Trump laid the groundwork for contesting election results Tuesday, falsely declaring victory over Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race. He also called for a halt to vote counting, even though a number of legally-cast military and overseas citizen absentee ballots hadn’t been tabulated.

A cross-partisan coalition of retired military flag and general officers, and former secretaries of the Air Force and Army responded Thursday, urging the president to exercise patience and let the electoral process play out.

“Mr. President, remember your role as commander in chief,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Tony Zinni, during a call with reporters. “I think one of the obligations is to protect the rights of your service members that serve under you…and ensure that their voice is heard and their vote is counted.”

Zinni is with the advocacy group Count Every Hero, a veterans initiative with the goal of ensuring every service member’s ballot is counted before a winner is declared. Count Every Hero argues that military absentee ballots could affect the outcome of the race in states that are still in play — especially Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Former Air Force Secretary Debbie Lee James said on the call that service members make heavy sacrifices for the country, and deserve to have their votes accounted for.

“What is the message that not counting their lawful votes would then send in return?” James asked. “I mean, to me, it is completely offensive, and would be a slap in the face to those who have filled out their ballots, who have followed the rules, the ballots have arrived within the framework that the state has laid out, and yet they somehow would not be counted.”

Even though there is debate about whether absentee ballots that arrive after Election Day should be counted, many states have rules in place to allow for longer travel times for absentee ballots coming from service members and their military members and their families, as well as citizens living overseas.

Under the U.S. Constitution, state legislatures make the rules regarding elections.

About 79% of uniformed service members voted by mail in 2018. It’s a voting method the military has used in large numbers since the Civil War.

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Carson Frame was Texas Public Radio's military and veterans' issues reporter from July 2017 until March 2024.