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The vagaries of the military postal system, especially in war zones, mean that many completed ballots have to be mailed well ahead of Election Day.

Last week, the Military Voters Protection Project, an advocacy group, released figures they had compiled from a handful of states that showed a large decline in the numbers of ballots sent out so far in 2012, compared with 2008.

But Mr. Carey, who reached out to reporters after seeing news accounts of those figures, said that the comparison was “woefully misleading” because of an earlier federal law that made the number of absentee ballots requested appear larger in the 2008 presidential election.

Four year ago, federal law required election officials nationwide to send absentee ballots to anyone who registered that year and to anyone who had asked for an absentee ballot in the 2006 election, Mr. Carey said.

Almost one quarter of all the ballots sent out to military and overseas voters in 2008 were sent out automatically to people who had requested them two years earlier, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

Election authorities considered that requirement very burdensome, and Congress repealed it in 2009, Mr. Carey said. In the current election cycle, officials are required to send absentee ballots only to voters who request them for this year.

“When those automatically sent ballots are taken out of the 2008 numbers, and then compared to the 2012 numbers, we see in those states for which we have accurate data in both years that military and absentee ballot requests are actually increasing,” he said.

Eric Eversole of the Military Voters Protection Project, which released the numbers last week, dismissed that argument.

“They were sent,” he said of the automatic ballots. “More than two-thirds were returned. Why would you leave them out?”

“This story is part of a desperate attempt to deflect criticism and create misinformation regarding their failures,” he said.

“Nothing more, nothing less.”