The Obama campaign said in a lawsuit drawing attention this weekend that the Ohio Secretary of State "appropriately" allowed a longer time period for early, in-person voting among members of the military and their families — a line that contradicts suggestions that the suit opposes early voting for servicemembers.
The lawsuit — filed more than two weeks ago by the Obama campaign, Democratic National Committee and Ohio Democratic Party — has become a target of the Romney campaign, with Spokesman Ryan Williams telling BuzzFeed that Obama's campaign "sued Ohio to object to the three extra days the state is giving military voters and their families during Ohio’s in-person early voting period."
Fox News went further, reporting that the lawsuit aims to "block a new state law allowing men and women in uniform to vote up until the Monday right before an election."
In fact, the lawsuit is addressing what it calls "a confused legislative process" surrounding the passage of three voting laws in a short period in Ohio. The effect of those laws is: (1) in-person early voting in Ohio ends for most voters on the Friday before the election and (2) two conflicting deadlines regarding the end of in-person early voting for those voting under the auspices of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act, which includes servicemembers and their families.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, issued an advisory addressing the conflict and allowing for more voting time for the servicemember voters.
In the July 17 complaint, the Democratic groups state that "the Secretary of State appropriately resolved the conflict between the two in-person early voting deadlines for UOCAVA voters in favor of the more generous time period," which would appear to blunt any claim that the lawsuit's aim is to object to the extra time.
The lawsuit, if it succeeds, would not impact the in-person early voting of servicemembers and their families, instead asking the court to "restor[e] in-person early voting on the three days immediately preceding Election Day for all eligible Ohio voters."
And while Republicans have accused Obama of trying to deny soldiers the vote in Ohio, the actual legal objections to the Obama filing are different: Not that Ohio soldiers' votes might not be counted, but that the Obama move might set a precedent that giving soldiers special consideration is unconstitutional.
Indeed, group of fraternal military groups, including the National Guard Association of the United States, have filed a motion to intervene (embedded below) in the case to oppose the lawsuit on those grounds — and make no suggestion that the Democrats' suit would restrict Ohio soldiers' votes.
The groups' filing states, "Although the relief Plaintiffs seek is an overall extension of Ohio’s early voting period, the means through which Plaintiffs are attempting to attain it—a ruling that it is arbitrary and unconstitutional to grant extra time for early voting solely to military voters and overseas citizens—is both legally inappropriate and squarely contrary to the legal interests and constitutional rights of Intervenors, their members, and the courageous men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces."
On Friday, the Obama campaign responded (embedded below), supporting the groups' intervention in the lawsuit and stating, "Neither the substance of its Equal Protection claim, nor the relief requested, challenges the legislature’s authority to make appropriate accommodation, including early voting during the period in question, for military voters, their spouses or dependents."
Obama's allies have accused Romney of smearing Obama with his objections to the suit, a claim that is undercut to a degree by the objections of relatively non-partisan military groups. And indeed, while the Romney campaign has stoked the controversy, it has also, if its statements are read carefully, been aware of this distinction. Williams told BuzzFeed this Saturday: "The Obama campaign has publicly declared that it is arbitrary and unconstitutional to give military voters and their families extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period. Twenty times in their legal papers they say that Ohio had no good reason to provide this extra flexibility to military voters and their families. We disagree with that argument as a matter of principle."
Fraternal Military Groups' Motion to Intervene
Democrats' Response to the Groups' Motion
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.