A bevy of retired military officers and veteran entrepreneurs, including seven former service chiefs, recently retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and nine other four-stars, have endorsed a campaign to make sure military votes are counted among the avalanche of mail-in ballots expected in the upcoming presidential election.
The "Count Every Hero" effort, funded by RepresentUs -- a "cross-politics" nonprofit focused on election integrity and political corruption, aims to make sure that service members' votes are "counted before election winners are declared by candidates, election officials and media outlets."
Chaired by retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, Count Every Hero is promoting efforts to educate troops on registering to vote and requesting absentee ballots, regardless of duty station.
"We count on our troops to fight for our freedom, so we owe it to them to count their ballots. No candidate should be declared an election winner until all military ballots are counted," Zinni said.
Among the former service chiefs who have endorsed the campaign are Dunford, who was also commandant of the Marine Corps; former Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, former Air Force Chief of Staff John Jumper, former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and three former Coast Guard commandants: Adms. Jim Loy, Thad Allan and Paul Zunkuft.
Joining the chorus are retired Army Gens. Wesley Clark and Stanley McChrystal; Navy Adms. Steve Abbot, Tom Fargo and James Ellis; and Air Force Gens. Howell Estes, Lester Lyle and Gregory Martin.
Service members living outside their home states and U.S. citizens stationed abroad can register to vote and request an absentee ballot through the Federal Voting Assistance Program's website at FVAP.gov.
This year, FVAP recommended that military personnel and civilians living overseas sign up for their ballots by Aug. 1 to ensure that they were mailed by Sept. 19, or they could receive their ballot electronically.
If these voters do not receive their ballot in time to return it before their state's deadline, they can use the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, available through the site, as a backup.
Concerns have been raised over whether the U.S. Postal Service -- and election officials -- are equipped to handle the expected avalanche of absentee and mail-in ballots this year from those who want to vote early or avoid long lines and exposure to COVID-19 on Election Day, Nov. 3.
Each state has its own rules for receiving and counting absentee ballots, and they run the gamut. Alabama requires that ballots be postmarked no later than the day before the election and arrive at their destination by noon Election Day. Alaska, California and 13 more states will count ballots that arrive after the election if they are dated no later than the day of the election. Other states require that ballots arrive by Election Day.
Every absentee ballot is counted if it meets the state's laws regarding arrival and proper signatures or other verifications.
But in July and August, due to changes in operations by the U.S. Postal Service, first-class mail was delayed by at least a day. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy pledged to stop the planned streamlining until after Election Day, but mail continues to arrive slower than it did at the beginning of the year, which might delay the arrival of absentee ballots.
President Donald Trump also has claimed that mail-in voting is susceptible to fraud and that voter signatures are routinely forged, although his campaign is openly advocating for supporters to vote absentee.
Count Every Hero is concerned about potential mail delays and would like to make sure that the ballot counting process is "not stopped before [service members'] ballots have arrived, as required, to be counted."
"We know that in 2018, nearly 40% of military ballots that were rejected in the general election were not counted because they missed the deadline," said Jack Noland, a group spokesman. "Voters abroad face unique challenges, and the last thing we should want is a process cut short that dishonors [their] service."
Bob Carey, a retired Navy captain who serves as chairman of the National Defense Committee and was director of the Defense Department's Federal Voting Assistance Program from 2009 to 2012, said he believes voters might not understand the potential for disenfranchisement this year with the sheer volume of absentee ballots expected to be cast.
"It has nothing to do with the Post Office. It has nothing to do with election officials. It's simply that people aren't used to voting this way and they are going to screw it up," Carey said.
The Military Vote Coalition, a nonpartisan group of at least 15 organizations, has begun reaching out to state election officials to ensure that ballots were sent out on time; members say they have concerns that military voting rights may be abrogated if the laws established to protect them are inadequate, or if they get lost in the shuffle of mail-in votes.
"[Military and overseas ballots] are special -- especially the military ballots -- and they do rate special treatment," Carey said.
He recommends that voters who can cast their vote early in person do so to ensure their vote is counted, or stand in line on Election Day.
Military personnel who must vote absentee should follow the instructions on FVAP.gov.
"FVAP.gov really does have great information to walk them through the process and walk them through their options. They have it broken down by state," Carey said. "Two, if they are hearing about a problem, reach out to the Military Vote Coalition and tell us about it so we can get relief."
RepresentUs, the group behind Count Every Hero, claims a diverse group of board and advisory council members that includes former Microsoft vice president and activist Jon DeVaan; YuChiang Chen, president of TopGolf Media; activist Anke Faber; actor Jennifer Lawrence; and film director Adam McKay.
According to the group, advisers "span the political spectrum, from progressives to Tea Party conservatives."
More on the advocacy group can be found at its website.