Could absentee ballots coming from military voters and U.S. citizens overseas still make a difference in this election, even after most of the counting is done?
That remains to be seen, with the changing margins of votes. In four of the states that are still in play for the president’s race, election officials allow absentee ballots from military voters and overseas citizens to arrive after Election Day. That includes Pennsylvania, which requires those ballots to be signed by Nov. 2, but can arrive up until 5 p.m. on Nov. 10.
Wisconsin and Michigan were still up in the air as of this writing, but those military and overseas votes had to be in to election officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
The military and overseas ballots could also be a factor in some close Senate races.
According to Associated Press numbers as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, President Donald Trump was ahead of Joe Biden by 560,010 votes in Pennsylvania. There are more than 1.4 million mail-in votes yet to be counted in Pennsylvania. But through Nov. 10, valid ballots can still arrive from military absentee voters and U.S. citizens overseas. It’s anyone guess as to how the margins will change, but in the 2016 presidential election, Pennsylvania counted a total of 22,327 ballots from these voters, to include 7,788 military ballots, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
North Carolina: The margin of Trump over Biden was 76,712 votes, with the count continuing. In 2016, there were 17,201 military and overseas absentee ballots counted, including 6,317 military. But in North Carolina, local election officials accept absentee ballots from military and overseas voters through Nov. 12 — and no postmark is required on the ballot.
Georgia: The margin of Trump over Biden was 102,212 votes, with the count continuing. In 2016, there were 12,432 military and overseas absentee ballots counted, including 5,203 military ballots. Georgia election officials accept absentee ballots from these voters by Nov. 6, as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3.
Nevada: Biden was ahead of Trump at the latest count, by 7,647 votes. In 2016, Nevada counted a total of 6,290 military and overseas absentee ballots, to include 2,677 from military voters. Nevada election officials accept ballots through Nov. 10, as long as they were postmarked by Nov. 3.
Overall in 2016, there were 252,574 military absentee ballots counted by all the states; and 382,896 absentee ballots from U.S. citizens overseas, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
As everyone has seen, the margins of votes in this election are changing rapidly as more votes are counted. Military and overseas citizens' votes will be counted by election officials, but the fact that some states have previously carved out later deadlines to allow for more transit times for these ballots could make a difference. On the other hand, a number of these voters got their ballots in earlier.
Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, commonly known as UOCAVA, states must make certain provisions to make voting easier for UOCAVA voters. That includes offering voters the option of receiving their blank ballot electronically (states can choose to offer email, fax, or online portal); and accepting the FWAB as a backup ballot for all federal elections. States were required to send the blank ballots to UOCAVA voters at least 45 days before an election.
In 29 states and the District of Columbia, their laws and rules allow election officials to count ballots that arrive after the polls close from military, their family members, and U.S. citizens overseas, according to an analysis conducted for the Count Every Hero campaign. That organization has cautioned news organizations, candidates and election officials about declaring winners before the military vote is counted.
Military Times deputy editor Leo Shane III and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.