MADISON, Wis. -- Working to broaden his popularity among military veterans, Republican Mitt Romney's campaign has sent letters to election officials in Wisconsin, Mississippi and Vermont demanding that the deadline for receiving ballots from military and overseas voters be extended.
The letters sent in recent days on Romney's behalf by former U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi charge that election officials in the states missed the Sept. 22 deadline for mailing some ballots to overseas and military voters. A fourth letter was to be sent Tuesday to Michigan officials, according to Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams.
The campaign is actively monitoring state and local election officials across the country, he said.
"We want to ensure that our fighting men and women overseas have the right to vote in the time that is given under federal law," Williams said. "We're doing it across the country in both red states and blue state and battleground states."
The letter-writing effort targets election officials in presidential battleground states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, but extends into others – Mississippi and Vermont – that neither side expects to be competitive on Election Day. The move is part of a broader push by the Romney campaign to expand his popularity among military veterans, who tend to be older men who vote Republican, to help balance President Barack Obama's advantage among Latinos and women.
Exit polls suggest that Obama lost the veterans vote by 10 points in 2008. A Gallup Poll taken in August gave Romney a 17-point edge among the voting bloc, which makes up about 13 percent of the adult population.
In Wisconsin, 27 municipalities missed the deadline for various reasons to send ballots to a total of 44 military and overseas voters, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board, which handles elections. All 44 ballots were sent to the affected voters within five days of the missed deadline, Magney said.
Federal law requires that ballots be sent to military and overseas voters by Sept. 22, and be returned by Nov. 9.
Williams said the Romney campaign was paying closer attention to Wisconsin because of problems election clerks had earlier this year in meeting the deadline for the presidential primary.
In March, Wisconsin election officials entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to extend the deadline for receiving ballots for the April 3 primary when at least 227 military and overseas ballots were mailed after the deadline.
Under that agreement, the ballots had to be postmarked by the day of the election, April 3, but the completed ballot was counted if it came in within as many days as it was sent late.
The Romney letters copied in the U.S. Department of Justice. If the department doesn't bring legal action, the campaign will consider it, Williams said.
The Justice Department said in an email that it was reviewing compliance with the law nationwide and would take enforcement action where necessary.
There are 6,120 military and overseas voters in Wisconsin, Magney said. The total voting age population is about 4.38 million.
The Romney campaign sent its letter to the election commission in Hinds County, Mississippi, and to Vermont Secretary of State James Condos. The letters do not indicate, and Williams did not know, how many voters in each of those states may be affected.
Hinds County election officials have said the deadline was missed for just 13 voters but they have all since received their ballots electronically.
In the Vermont letter, Principi said 53 municipalities sent ballots late.
Condos, a Democrat who last week called the issue "a show" by the Romney campaign, said a recount in a primary race delayed the printing of the November ballots. Condos said all the late ballots had been sent to the affected voters by Tuesday.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington and Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.