Tens of thousands of military ballots are likely among those that still need to be counted in key swing states as the race between President TrumpDonald TrumpMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 Trump endorses David Perdue in Georgia's governor race MORE and Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMan sentenced to nearly four years for running scam Trump, Biden PACs Dole in final column: 'Too many of us have sacrificed too much' Meadows says Trump's blood oxygen level was dangerously low when he had COVID-19 MORE remained too close to call on Wednesday.
In Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Nevada, pivotal states that have yet to be called, absentee ballots from military and overseas voters can arrive until next week, while such ballots can arrive in uncalled Georgia until Friday.
While it’s unclear exactly how many military ballots are outstanding in all of those states, four years ago, those voters sent mail-in ballots by the thousands.
“We won't know the exact number of ballots outstanding, but past elections show the importance of counting these votes,” said Jack Noland, research manager at Count Every Heroes, an organization focused on ensuring military ballots are counted.
“An important caveat is that we can't know for certain, but I think it goes without saying that if the race becomes particularly tight these ballots could be vital,” he added in an email. “This year — especially because of the impacts of COVID-19 — the integrity of the election rests on mail-in votes, including ballots from members of the military, being validated and counted. We must count every ballot.”
Biden has taken narrow leads in states such as Michigan and Nevada, and many outstanding ballots in Pennsylvania and Georgia are believed to be from areas that historically favor Democrats.
Trump has prematurely claimed victory and threatened to go to the Supreme Court to attempt to stop ballot counting. On Wednesday, his campaign filed lawsuits to halt ballot counting in Pennsylvania and Michigan and vowed to seek a recount in Wisconsin.
Ahead of the election, Trump’s critics hammered his comments on prematurely ending ballot canvassing, saying he was threatening to disenfranchise members of the military.
Absentee voting rights for U.S. troops deployed overseas, as well as those stationed somewhere in the United States other than their voting residence, are protected by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
In Michigan, ballots needed to arrive by Tuesday. That’s also true for Wisconsin and Arizona, which The Associated Press has already called for Biden. That means “outstanding military ballots won't swing those races,” Noland said.
Pennsylvania, where Trump was leading Biden by about half a million votes as of Wednesday afternoon, will continue to accept military ballots until Nov. 10.
In 2016, 7,788 members of the military voted by mail in Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
“I’ll also just remind everyone, military and overseas ballots are not due until a week after Election Day,” Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said at a news conference Wednesday. “We want to make sure that not only every civilian absentee mail-in valid voter is counted but also that every man and woman who are serving our country, that their votes are counted.”
Nevada, where 2,677 troops voted absentee in 2016, also has a Nov. 10 deadline for the ballots to arrive. Biden holds a slim lead in the state after all Election Day votes were counted, and just absentee and provisional ballots remain to be tallied.
In North Carolina, service members’ ballots can arrive as late Nov. 12. As of Wednesday afternoon, Trump maintained a lead of about 75,000 votes over Biden that is expected to be hard for the Democratic nominee to overcome.
The state’s election division said in statistics released Wednesday that 9,749 military absentee votes have already been cast. The number returned already surpassed 2016, when 6,317 troops cast absentee ballots in North Carolina, according to the Election Assistance Commission.
In Georgia, military ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and arrive by Friday. Trump was ahead of Biden by less than 2 percentage points as of Wednesday, but ballots from heavily Democratic areas around Atlanta have yet to be counted, leaving Democrats hopeful the race will swing Biden’s way.
In 2016, military voters cast 5,203 absentee ballots in Georgia, according to the Election Assistance Commission. That means, Noland said, “if the race comes down to the wire, those ballots could make a difference.”