Election 2020

Former military leaders: Trump’s tweet is ‘attack on our electoral process’

Retired military flag and general officers, and former secretaries of the Army and Air Force spoke out strongly Thursday against President Donald Trump’s tweet about stopping the ballot count after Election Day, urging him to exercise restraint and let the process play out.

“ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED!”, Trump tweeted.

A number of legal absentee ballots arriving after Election Day are coming from military members and their families, who, according to their states' long-standing guidelines under law, are allowed extra transit time for mailed absentee ballots.

Trump’s tweet “is an attack on our electoral process and frankly is inappropriate,” said retired Navy Adm. Steve Abbott, a member of the organization Count Every Hero, during a press call with reporters. He urged Trump to “exercise the same patience as the rest of the nation” in waiting for the results of the full vote count.

“Mr. President, remember your role as commander in chief,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. Tony Zinni, during a press call. “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 chairman of the cross-partisan organization Count Every Hero, whose members include a number of veterans. The press call was the latest in their effort to emphasize the need to count every legally cast military absentee ballot in every state. In recent days it’s become clear these ballots may play a role in the outcome of some battleground states where votes are still being tallied. In Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia, absentee ballots from military and overseas U.S. citizens can be counted after Election Day, based on their states' laws and deadlines.

Army 2nd Lt. Daii Gardner and Spc. Natasha Washington hand out voting ballots to soldiers at the Theater Gateway, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Oct. 21, 2020. (Staff Sgt. Luke Wilson/Army Reserve)
Army 2nd Lt. Daii Gardner and Spc. Natasha Washington hand out voting ballots to soldiers at the Theater Gateway, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Oct. 21, 2020. (Staff Sgt. Luke Wilson/Army Reserve)

Over the years, states — and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act — have made a number of changes to make it easier for these voters to get their ballots counted. A number of states allow these voters to submit their voted ballots electronically. Many states provide tracking systems that allow voters to check to see if their ballot was received. DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Overseas Vote Foundation have also worked to provide information, tools and resources to ease the process.

The U.S. Constitution provides for the states to run their elections, according to state law, and these questions must be decided by states, said Louis Caldera, former secretary of the Army, who now teaches election law. “I think the state officials shouldn’t be in any way cowed by [Trump’s] message. I know they’re professionals and will continue to do their duty, which is to count every vote.”

Caldera and a number of the leaders said they’ve been heartened to hear comments from governors and state officials that they are committed to counting every vote, including the military absentee ballots.

Retired Army Gen. George Casey suggested that when state election officials certify their results, that they also add a statement that all votes from service members and their families had been counted.

Abbott suggested that Trump’s staff and "responsible officials at all levels, including Congress ... say to him, ‘Mr. President, you need to exercise the same patience as the rest of the nation.’ It doesn’t help this democracy to sound this alarm before it’s over with.”

Deborah Lee James, former secretary of the Air Force, said Trump should remember, as commander in chief, that “in the United States of America, we believe in the rule of law. Let the laws of the states, let the procedures of the states, play out,” to ensure that the votes of service members are counted, she said.

“I firmly believe that it’s important to the long-term health of our democracy that counting continues,” said Casey. "I hope that every vote is counted, especially the votes of the men and women of our armed forces who do so much for this country.

“They deserve to have their voices heard.”

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