About 8,900 military and overseas ballots have yet to be returned and counted in Georgia, where former Vice President Joe Biden has inched ahead of President Donald Trump in the battle for the state's 16 electoral votes, state officials said Friday.
In statements and a news conference Friday morning, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, said that "approximately 8,900 military and overseas absentee ballots have been sent out to requesters, but not yet returned" by mail to state election offices.
If postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, those ballots can be accepted up to a current deadline of 5 p.m. Friday, Raffensperger said. That does not mean, however, that the total ballot count is guaranteed to increase by 8,900; it's likely some ballot-holders will miss the deadline or have failed to send back their ballots at all.
As the count tightened, Trump himself drew attention to the outstanding Georgia military ballots.
"Where are the missing military ballots in Georgia? What happened to them?" he tweeted, though he did not explain or clarify why he described them as missing.
About 4,100 other mail-in ballots remained to be counted as of Friday morning, state officials said.
Trump took an early and commanding lead in the state on the strength of same-day voting by his supporters, but Biden eroded that advantage as mail-in ballot counting proceeded.
As of Friday afternoon, both candidates had 49.4% of the vote in Georgia, but Biden was ahead by about 1,500 votes.
The closeness of the election will likely result in a recount in Georgia, Raffensperger said.
On Thursday, retired senior military leaders and defense officials said the current election demonstrates the need for election law reform to give military members more time to return their ballots and have them counted.
Troops overseas "don't always have the ability to get their ballots and get them back in time," said former Army Secretary Louis Caldera, a member of the bipartisan Count Every Hero organization.
In a video conference with reporters, retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, chairman of Count Every Hero, took exception to Trump's call to stop the vote count, as he alleged widespread fraud in the system.
Any move to stop the count could disenfranchise service members voting by absentee ballot, Zinni said.
"Mr. President, remember your role as commander in chief," he said. "I think one of the obligations is to protect the rights of your service members that serve under you [and to] ensure that their voice is heard and their vote is counted."
Retired Gen. George Casey, a former Army chief of staff, said that service members' absentee ballots should all be counted. "They deserve to have their voice heard," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.