WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's campaign is stepping up its efforts to ensure that U.S. servicemembers overseas are able to get their votes counted in the November elections, filing suit in Wisconsin Friday to get a five-day extension for absentee and military voters.
At issue is a federal law -- the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act (UOCAVA) -- that requires election officials to send absentee ballots to military voters at least 45 days before a federal election. All absentee ballots must be returned by Nov. 9, which is three days after the election; the Romney campaign wants Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in the state, to push that date back to Nov. 14.
"Because members of the military are often stationed in remote, dangerous, front line locations, there is a substantial likelihood that the defendants' violations of law will prevent military voters from receiving, completing, and returning their ballots in time to have them counted," the Romney campaign wrote in its complaint to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on Friday. "The defendants' unlawful conduct therefore may effectively disenfranchise the very men and women who make daily sacrifices to protect our system of democratic government."
The Romney campaign first raised its concerns to Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board in a letter on Oct. 1. At the time, GAB spokesman Reid Magney disputed that the problem was as serious as the Romney campaign made it seem, pointing out that of the 4,288 military and overseas Wisconsin voters who requested absentee ballots, only 44 were not sent their ballots on time.
In response to the new complaint, Magney said in an email that further review showed that only four ballots were sent out too late to have the required 45 days of transit time.
"The Government Accountability Board has been working diligently with municipal clerks, whose responsibility it is to send out absentee ballots, and with the U.S. Department of Justice on military and overseas ballot issues," Magney said. "We will respond to the substance of the lawsuit in court filings."
"Additionally, we deny any claim that the G.A.B. is selectively enforcing election laws and voting rights," Magney continued. "We have been working diligently with municipal clerks to ensure that all military and overseas voters receive their ballots as soon as possible, and will have enough time to vote and return them for counting."
Vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) mentioned the issue while campaigning in his home state on Monday, arguing that "if a single soldier is denied his or her right to vote, that’s a shame. That’s not what we can stand for in this country."
Wisconsin isn't the only state that the Romney campaign is scrutinizing for its handling of absentee ballots. Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said the campaign has filed requests with all states for information on whether absentee ballots were sent to overseas voters on time.
So far, the requests have raised concerns in Vermont, Mississippi, Michigan and Colorado.
Williams said Wisconsin is the first state the campaign has filed a lawsuit in over the issue. In Vermont, the Department of Justice has filed a suit.
What upsets some progressives is that the Romney campaign doesn't seem to be working as hard to ensure that veterans -- in addition to students, minorities and low-income individuals who would be disproportionately affected by GOP-backed voter ID bills and, unlike active-duty military members, tend to vote Democratic -- will be protected.
In August, Iraq war veteran Jon Soltz, who is the chairman of the progressive group VoteVets.org, criticized the Romney campaign for supporting an Ohio law that would do away with three days of early voting for residents, including veterans. According to Soltz, as many as 913,000 Ohio veterans would have seen their voting rights restricted.
The Romney campaign's complaint:
GAB's response to the Romney campaign's original letter:
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