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Gen. Milley: ‘Zero’ role for US military in disputed election results

Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on the Defense Department’s authorities and roles in relation to civilian law enforcement, July 9, 2020. (Department of Defense/Released)
October 13, 2020

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in a recent interview that there is no role for the U.S. military in resolving a disputed election result.

In an interview with NPR, Milley was asked about if he was confident in the existing constitutional structure for resolving a disputed election. Milley said, “I’m very confident in the resilience of the American institutions and the American government and the American people’s adherence to the principles of rules of law. And we, the military, stay out of domestic politics.”

Milley said an apolitical military is “very, very deeply rooted into the very essence of our republic, and I would tell you that in my mind, if there’s a disputed election — it’s not in my mind, it’s in the law.”

Milley continued, saying, “If there’s a disputed election, that’ll be handled by Congress and the courts. And I’m quite confident that that will be the case this time around, as it has been several times before. This isn’t the first time that someone has suggested that there might be a contested election. And if there is, it’ll be handled appropriately by the courts and by the U.S. Congress. There’s no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election. Zero. There is no role there.”

In August, Milley issued his first assurance that the U.S. military would play no role in settling an election dispute. The question was posed to Milley, at the time, by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ). The two lawmakers asked Milley if there were any circumstances in which he would deem it necessary to send the U.S. military to polling places, and whether election results must be resolved by civilian authorities alone.

“In the event of a dispute over some aspect of the elections, by law U.S. courts and the U.S. Congress are required to resolve any disputes, not the U.S. Military,” Milley said at the time.

In a June interview with The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he believes President Donald Trump will try to steal the election, but if Trump lost the election and refused to leave office, the military would escort him from the White House “with great dispatch.”

Various state and local officials have also suggested sending National Guard units to polling sites. There has been no federal level plan for National Guard units to assist states with the 2020 election. Under federal law, military personnel under federal control are prohibited from carrying out operations at polling places, though units under state control may assist with cybersecurity and physical security at election sites, and can help sort ballots and set up polling stations.

In his Sunday, Milley said, “We have established a very long 240-year tradition of an apolitical military that does not get involved in domestic politics. And so I think that that’s an important principle to adhere to, to continue to adhere to and we will adhere to it.”

“In addition to that, we have a long tradition of adhering to law,” Milley added. “We’re a country of laws. We’re a country where the rule of law matters. So we, the U.S. military, we are sworn to obey the lawful orders of our civilian leadership. And we want to ensure that there is always civilian leadership, civilian control of the military, and we will obey the lawful orders of civilian control of the military.