Ohio Voting Law Fight Heats Up

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  • Republicans complain that Democrats are playing the race card in the fierce battle over new restrictive voting laws approved by some states. Now Democrats are accusing the GOP of falsely playing the military card in regard to the laws.

    Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and a handful of congressional Republicans are claiming that President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign is trying to damp down the vote of military service members and their families in Ohio.

    The Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and the Ohio Democratic Party filed a lawsuit last month against Ohio’s attorney general over changes in the state’s early voting rules.

    The cutoff for in-person early voting for most Ohio voters is the Friday before Election Day under laws passed by the state legislature and signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. But under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act, military personnel can cast ballots in-person up until the day before Election Day, which is on a Tuesday.

    Obama and the Democrats are suing to allow all voters in the Buckeye State to cast in-person ballots during those three days before the election. Even though the lawsuit seeks to extend the early voting period to all, Romney and other Republican lawmakers are portraying it as an effort to target military voters.

    “In their lawsuit, the Obama campaign and the (Democratic National Committee) argue it is ‘arbitrary’ and unconstitutional to provide three extra days of early, in-person voting to military and their families,” Romney campaign general counsel Katie Biber wrote Sunday. “We disagree with the basic premise that it is ‘arbitrary’ and unconstitutional to give three extra days of in-person voting to military voters and their families, and believe it is a dangerous and offensive argument for President Obama and the DNC to make.”

    “It is despicable for the Obama campaign to challenge Ohio’s lawful decision,” Biber added.

    David Axelrod, the Obama campaign’s senior advisor, accused the Romney camp and others of deliberately distorting the intent of lawsuit.

    “What that lawsuit calls for is not to deprive the military of the right to vote on the final weekend of the campaign,” Axelrod said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.” “Of course they (military members) should have that right. What that suit is about is whether the rest of Ohio should have the same right.”

    Axelrod then took a swipe at Romney.

    “I think it’s shameful that Gov. Romney would hide behind our servicemen and women to try and win a lawsuit to deprive other Ohioans of the right to vote,” he said.

    Axelrod echoed the sentiments of Vice President Joe Biden, who told Time Magazine Saturday that “It’s the members of the military and veterans who fought for everyone’s right to vote.”

    “The attempt (by Republicans) to restrict their voting in Ohio –along with the voting rights of all Ohioans – is shameful.”

    The outcome of the lawsuit is critical for both parties. Ohio is considered a must-win state for Obama and Romney. The president won it in 2008 by four points over Republican presidential candidate John McCain, thanks in large part to a heavy get-out-the-vote drive the final weekend before the election.

    Obama may have won the state, but McCain (R-Ariz.) won the state’s military vote 54 percent to Obama’s 44 percent.

    Ohio isn’t the only state that Obama won in 2008 that’s retrenched early voting for 2012. As part of its new voting laws, Florida eliminated voting on the last Sunday before Election Day.  In 2008, 33.2 percent of the Floridians who voted on that final Sunday were black and 23.6 percent were Hispanic. Much of the black vote in Florida and other early-voting states on that Sunday was fueled by “Souls to the Polls” efforts by black churches.

    “We find that Democratic, African-American, Hispanic, younger, and first-time voters were disproportionately likely to vote early in 2008 and in particular on weekends, including the final Sunday of early voting, University of Florida political science professor Daniel A. Smith and Dartmouth University government professor Michael Herron wrote in a study Florida’s 2008 voting patterns.

    The spate of rollbacks in early voting periods, government-approved photo identification requirements, the curtailment or elimination of third-party voter registration drives and other new voting laws approved by more than a dozen states are nothing more than efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly, the poor, and the young, according to many Democrats, civil rights organizations and civil liberties groups.

    “Unfortunately, here in Ohio, as in many other parts of the country, we have seen rules adopted in the past decade – especially in the past year – that make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote and have their votes counted,” Ohio State University election law expert Daniel P. Tokaji told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, human and civil rights last May. “This is ironic, given that the main problem with American elections is not that too many people are voting; it is that not enough eligible citizens are turning out to vote.”
     

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