Between the two of us, we accumulated nearly 80 years of military service on behalf of the United States. We each had the privilege of acting as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the second-highest position in our armed forces. One of us was appointed to the role by a Democratic president; the other, by a Republican.
As commissioned officers, we both swore an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution. And today, given the circumstances surrounding this election, our continued sense of duty compels us to speak. We urge every American — regardless of their political affiliation — to trust the final results of this election: Democrat Joe Biden will be the next commander-in-chief.
The entire weight of our democracy rests upon a handful of principles. Chief among them is our collective faith, as a people, in the enduring strength and integrity of the American government. And no American should place their allegiance to a single political party before their devotion to our nation as a whole. That’s why, to borrow a phrase from our military days, we call Bravo Sierra on anyone questioning the legitimacy of our democratic processes.
The integrity behind the election
We wish to underscore our steadfast conviction that the vast majority of election officials are honest, hardworking public servants with the best interests of our nation at heart. And though no human endeavor is flawless, there are safeguards in place to protect the integrity of the process.
Every state maintains concrete steps to authenticate absentee ballots, and each has a deadline by which it will verify its results. The process this year has been carried out with the integrity we expect as Americans. To claim otherwise, without evidence, compromises the sanctity of our democracy.
Much has been made about the significant number of absentee ballots cast by mail because of COVID-19. The reality is that members of the armed forces have successfully voted by mail since the Civil War. During our time in the military, we cast ballots from nearly every corner of the world. Indeed, members of the U.S. military vote from every clime and place, including aboard the International Space Station and onboard submarines deployed worldwide. On every occasion, we and our fellow service members have complete confidence that our ballots will be received and counted.
To put it simply: If voting by mail is acceptable for the members of the military, then it should be acceptable for the rest of our population.
The rest of the world looks to us as an example for free and fair elections
As we have seen since Election Day, it is an awesome task to tally a massive number of absentee ballots. An estimated 65 million Americans voted by mail. But voters must have confidence that every one of these votes has counted. That’s why our local officials have taken so much time to carry out this immense responsibility.
We have devoted our lives to advancing America’s ideals abroad, often in the face of regimes that oppressed their own people — from the Soviet Union to North Korea to Afghanistan and Iraq. We have watched nations in Asia, Africa and Europe look to the United States as a model when holding their own democratic elections and ensuring peaceful transitions of power.
If we refuse to accept the results of this election, it will deliver a lasting victory for the enemies of democracy — and a terrible blow to all those who view America as a beacon of liberty and self-determination.
During the course of our duties, we have come to understand the democratic freedoms we enjoy in this country are fragile — and can never be taken for granted. Still, we believe our republic stands on a firm foundation; the incredible turnout of voters this year — despite the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic — proves this fact. Now, it is our collective responsibility to preserve and advance it, to trust in both our democratic process and in the final results of this election.
Retired Admiral Bill Owens and retired General James Cartwright are both former vice chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the second most senior military officer in the United States. Both are also members of the bipartisan National Council on Election Integrity.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Retired Admiral and General: the election was legitimate