As Biden Takes Lead in Georgia, Military Ballots Could Sway Tight Election Race

With the presidential race coming down to the wire, tens of thousands of overseas and military votes—usually not fully counted until some days after an overall result is certain—could be pivotal, particularly in the state of Georgia where former Vice President Joe Biden has just overtaken President Donald Trump.

Election officials in Georgia, North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Alaska were still counting ballots early Thursday, and waiting for others to arrive, including those from American troops and their families stationed away from their home counties.

The absentee mail-in ballots have largely been breaking for Biden over the last few days, giving him the momentum that has put him on the verge of the presidency and drawing desperate, factually incorrect claims of electoral fraud from Trump.

But in a race so tight, the final result of the election may well hinge on outstanding military and overseas ballots. The Trump campaign is trying to stop officials from counting mail-in absentee votes, but the campaign has also said there "are and should be exceptions" for overseas servicemembers.

In 2016, troops and their families sent more than 630,000 ballots, The Washington Post reported. About 20,000 of those were rejected, largely because they arrived after the deadline. Civilian mail-in ballots have been favoring Biden, but there is speculation that military ballots might be better for Trump given his pro-military stance and nationalistic rhetoric.

But an August Military Times poll found support for the president sliding in the armed forces. The annual survey found that 41.3 percent of military respondents said they would vote for Biden if the election was held today, versus 37.4 percent for Trump.

The rules differ by state, but Georgia will count military ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received by Friday, November 6.

There were some 8,899 absentee ballots from military and overseas voters that had not yet been returned to Georgia election offices as of Thursday morning, according to the secretary of state's office. Another 17,529 overseas ballots had already been returned and counted.

It is not clear yet what proportion of these are from uniformed troops. In 2016, Georgia counted 5,203 military ballots, according to Military Times. If the race stays so tight, it is possible that 2020's batch could yet decide which way the Peach State swings.

The race is less close in the other states still uncalled, at least not enough that the outstanding number of overseas and military ballots might be the deciding factor.

In Arizona, where Biden is leading by tens of thousands of votes despite Trump campaign assertions that they will carry the state, ballots must be received by Election Day to be counted. In 2016, Arizona received around 5,000 overseas mail votes.

Biden is also still slightly ahead in Nevada. The state counted 2,677 military ballots in 2016, and this year will count all ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by November 10.

Pennsylvania is the key to the White House in this cycle. All eyes are on the commonwealth, where Trump established a big early lead but is now facing a Biden comeback thanks to absentee mail-in ballots, which are leaning heavily Democratic.

Many of the remaining votes are coming from Democratic strongholds, and Biden's campaign is confident it will take the state by some margin.

As such, the military ballots there are unlikely to make much difference. In 2016, the state counted 7,788 military ballots. Officials will count any ballot signed by November 2 and received by November 10.

military, ballots, Georgia, 2020 election, swing, Biden
National Guard soldiers patrol the streets of Philadelphia the morning after Americans voted in the presidential election on November 4, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Spencer Platt/Getty Images/Getty