WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has held himself up as a champion of U.S. troops without rival. Now, with his presidency on the line, he’s casting suspicion on a tool of participatory democracy — the mail-in ballot — that has allowed U.S. military personnel to vote while serving far from home since the War of 1812.
The president has shouted from Twitter to “STOP THE COUNT” and leveled unsubstantiated charges that "surprise ballot dumps" after election night are helping rival Democrat Joe Biden “steal” the election.
All the while, Trump insists that military voters' mail-in ballots must be counted. He even suggested on Friday — without presenting evidence — that some troops' mail-in ballots have gone “missing.”
In his dizzying effort to sow doubt about the integrity of the vote, Trump has been all over the map on mail-in voting. The broadsides have unsettled many veterans and former military brass who saw voting by mail as a tether to their civic duty when serving abroad.
“Officials at all levels including in the Congress need to say to the president ‘Sir, you need to exercise the same patience that the rest of the nation does,'” said retired Navy Adm. Steve Abbot, who later served as deputy homeland security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.
Abbot is a member of Count Every Hero, a coalition of top military brass advocating for service members' votes to be protected and properly tallied. He added: “It doesn’t help this democracy for (Trump) to continue to sound this alarm. It's inappropriate."
It’s unclear exactly how many mail-in military ballots remain uncounted in the undecided battleground states that will determine who will be the next president. More than 250,000 U.S. service members cast mail-in ballots in 2016 and even more were expected to vote by mail this time.
In the 2016 presidential election, Georgia received more than 5,600 ballots from uniformed service members; North Carolina received nearly 11,000; Pennsylvania nearly 7,800 and Nevada about 2,700, according to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.