The campaign manager of Mike Wilson, the Republican candidate for state representative in Ohio’s 28th district, sent out a press release late afternoon Monday. Its headline read: “Wilson stands with military voters: Opposed Obama effort to attack military voting rights.”
The accusation localized a national issue that had been driven through networks all weekend. It started with presidential candidate Mitt Romney. On Saturday, after Romney was asked a question about a lawsuit President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party had filed against state officials to restore all early voting in Ohio, the Romney camp posted a statement on Romney’s Facebook page: "President Obama's lawsuit claiming it is unconstitutional for Ohio to allow servicemen and women extended early voting privileges during the state’s early voting period is an outrage." The message went on to say Romney stands by the "fifteen military groups" opposing the lawsuit.
To be clear, the lawsuit Obama and the Democratic Party filed on July 17 is not meant to diminish or take away anyone’s voting rights. On the contrary, it is meant to give early voting rights to everyone, including military personnel. Right now, in-person early voting begins on Oct. 2, but it is cut off three days before Election Day for everyone except military personnel and their families, who keep the right to vote in-person on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day.
If the lawsuit is successful, those three days of in-person early voting will be extended to the rest of Ohio’s voting population.
So any accusation that Obama and the Democrats are trying to take away or attack anyone’s voting rights is false.
But that has not deterred Republicans from using the attack. They used it in press releases and statements all day Monday. The Wilson campaign invoked the attack in its own press release when it said it opposed the “Obama effort to attack military voting rights.” But Wilson’s opposition is a bit more nuanced than the political spin Republicans have wrongfully put on Obama’s lawsuit.
“I think there are a few potential outcomes out of the lawsuit: One is the three days are extended to everyone, another is the court strikes down the three days altogether,” Wilson says.
Wilson is worried a court could agree with the premise of the lawsuit — that it is unconstitutional to give one group of people, meaning military personnel, extra voting rights — but not the goal of the lawsuit: that all in-person early voting rights should be extended to all Ohio citizens. The result of that ruling could be the repeal of the three extra in-person voting days. That would ensure everyone’s rights are treated equally because then no one would have the extra right of voting in-person one, two or three days early.
However, this outcome is not desirable by the Obama team or the Democrats. On the contrary, Ohio Democrats have repeatedly pushed for legislation that restores early voting rights Republican legislators did away with in H.B. 194 and H.B. 224 in 2011. Before those two laws, Ohio allowed everyone to vote in-person a full five weeks before Election Day. So if Obama and the Democrats had their way, this lawsuit would not be necessary because all in-person early voting days would still be available to all Ohio voters, just like they were in 2008 and 2010.
If the Obama lawsuit reaches its goal and voting rights are extended to all citizens, Wilson still has some concerns. Under that scenario, Wilson is worried military personnel would have longer lines when they go out to vote, which he says would be harder on military personnel that have restrictions on travel and free time due to their jobs.
But those restrictions on travel and free time are why absentee ballots exist in the first place, and absentee ballots would be unaffected by the Obama lawsuit. Absentee ballots allow voters — traditionally military voters — to mail in ballots without showing up to a polling station. Military personnel can start mailing in absentee ballots starting on Oct. 2, regardless of the lawsuit.
The two scenarios Wilson presented are similar to the reasons given by military organizations for opposing the lawsuit.
Even if either scenario came true, all Ohioans — including military personnel — will still be able to vote early starting Oct. 2. The lawsuit only deals with in-person voting on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day.