Right-wing media have distorted efforts by President Obama's re-election campaign to restore early voting for all Ohio voters, claiming the campaign is suing to restrict voting for members of the military. In fact, the Obama campaign's lawsuit seeks to restore early voting for all Ohioans, including members of the military and their families.
Obama Campaign Lawsuit Seeks To Restore Early Voting For All Ohio Voters
Columbus Dispatch: Obama Campaign “Is Suing To Allow” All Ohio Voters Access To Early Voting. The Obama campaign's lawsuit seeks to overturn an Ohio law that stripped early voting rights from all Ohio voters except members of the military and their dependents. From a Columbus Dispatch report on the suit:
President Barack Obama is suing to allow Ohioans to vote in person the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before he's either re-elected or defeated by Mitt Romney.
Obama's campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party argue that they're seeking equal access for all Ohio voters in the federal lawsuit filed yesterday against Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine, both Republicans.
The suit in the Southern District of Ohio seeks to restore the ability for county boards of elections to keep polling places open the final three days before Election Day -- an authority first stripped by the Republican-passed House Bill 194 last year. The measure was subject to a voter referendum but repealed first by GOP lawmakers, who passed a different bill that gives military families later polling access than other Ohio voters. [The Columbus Dispatch, 7/18/12]
Obama Campaign: Lawsuit Was Filed To Ensure “Every Ohioan Has Early Voting Rights, Including Military Members And Their Families.” The Obama campaign noted that the suit makes no effort to impact early voting for military members:
In addition to reducing Ohioans' access to the polls, the [Ohio] legislature created inequality between military voters who can cast early ballots in person through the day before the election and all other voters who only have until 6 p.m. on the Friday before the election to vote in-person absentee.
These restrictions are a violation of the equal protection guarantees in the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit seeks to make sure that all Ohioans, including military members and their families, can exercise their right to vote early. “This lawsuit seeks to treat all Ohio citizens equally under the law,” said Obama for America attorney Bob Bauer. “We want to restore the right of all to vote before Election Day.” [BarackObama.com, 8/3/12]
Conservative Media Have Distorted Obama Campaign Lawsuit
Fox Anchor Bill Hemmer: The Obama Campaign Suit Aims To “Limit Military Voters' Early Voting Time.” American Spectator editor John Fund appeared on America's Newsroom and called the Obama campaign's lawsuit over Ohio's early voting restrictions “hostage-taking,” saying, “in other words, we're not going to let the military vote unless everyone gets to vote early.” Host Bill Hemmer joined in, asserting the suit aims to “limit military voters' early voting time”:
HEMMER: Now the Romney campaign [is] calling a White House lawsuit to limit military voters' early voting time shameful. Obama campaign senior advisor David Axelrod firing back with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday”.
HEMMER: It appears the argument David Axelrod's making here is that Governor Romney is hiding behind a military vote. Because the argument Axelrod makes is, you know, if you're going to make early voting for one group, you should make it for all. And he went to great lengths to explain they were not targeting members of the military. Does the explanation fly?
FUND: Well that's interesting, but that is not what their lawsuit says. And, you know, you can say that Romney is hiding behind the military. On the other side you can say this is a hostage-taking. In other words, we're not going to let the military vote unless everybody gets to vote early. But as I've said, it's very easy to vote early in Ohio. You can cast an absentee ballot weeks before the election. So I think this is a hostage-taking more than anything else. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 8/6/12]
Fox's Bream: “The [Obama] Campaign Is Suing To Keep Members Of The Military From Having Extra Time To Cast Their Ballots.” Guest-hosting Special Report, Shannon Bream characterized the lawsuit as an attempt by the Obama campaign to “keep members of the military from having extra time to cast their ballots”:
BREAM: If President Obama gets his way, the special voting rights of some of America's finest will be eliminated. The [Obama] campaign is suing to keep members of the military from having extra time to cast their ballots in one key battleground state. [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, via Media Matters, 8/3/12]
Breitbart.com: “The Democratic Lawsuit Is Intended To Disenfranchise Some Unknown Number Of Military Voters.” Breitbart blogger Mike Flynn twisted the suit to declare the complaint was filed to “restrict” military members' voting ability:
Obama, in particular, enjoys being seen visiting troops and having photos taken with members of our military. So, why is his campaign and the Democrat party suing to restrict their ability to vote in the upcoming election?
If anyone proposes legislation to combat voter fraud, Democrats will loudly scream that the proposal could “disenfranchise” some voter, somewhere. We must ensure, they argue, that voting is easy and accessible to every single voter. Every voter, that is, except the men and women of our military.
Make no mistake, the Democrat lawsuit is intended to disenfranchise some unknown number of military voters. [Breitbart.com, 8/2/12]
Ohio Ended Early Voting The Weekend Prior To Election Day For All Except Members Of The Military And Those Overseas
Columbus Dispatch: “All Ohio Voters Could Cast Early Ballots In Person Up To Election Day” Until Republicans Banned It. From a Columbus Dispatch article on the lawsuit:
The lawsuit does not ask the judge to reduce early voting days for military personnel, which is required to stretch through the day before Election Day by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act. Rather, it reminds the court that all Ohio voters could cast early ballots in person up to Election Day until Republican state legislators in Ohio passed House Bill 194 last year.
Subsequent legislation restored in-person voting privileges on Saturday, Sunday and Monday for military families but left the new deadline for the rest of the voters on the Friday before Election Day. [The Columbus Dispatch, 8/5/12]
Bloomberg: Ohio Now Allows Only The Military, Their Families, And Those Overseas To Vote Early On Weekend Before Election Day. Bloomberg reported that under Ohio's current law, “families of armed forces members and civilians overseas can vote through the Monday before an election, while early voting for all other Ohio residents ends on the preceding Friday, a disparity Barack Obama's campaign claims is unconstitutional.” [Bloomberg News, 7/17/12]
Early Voting Three Days Prior To Elections Was Established To Solve Problems At The Polls
Beacon Journal: Early Voting Was Expanded In Ohio After 2004 Election Saw Unacceptably Long Wait Times For Voters. Early voting was expanded to include the weekend prior to election day after the 2004 presidential election, when long lines and equipment problems caused voters to wait nearly all day to cast their ballot. The Akron Beacon Journal reported:
The legislature expanded absentee voting in Ohio after the 2004 presidential election that saw long lines, with some voters waiting up to seven hours and others giving up and going home. The first presidential election that allowed early voting without a special reason was four years ago, when nearly 21 percent of all registered voters in Ohio cast absentee ballots. [Akron Beacon Journal, 7/17/12]
Voting Problems Prior To Expanding Early Voting Effectively Left Many Citizens Disenfranchised. The complaint noted that the long lines in 2004 left people who could not spend an entire day at the polls disenfranchised:
Between 2005 and 2011, Ohio successfully administered an early voting system that included in-person voting in the three days prior to Election Day. This early voting system increased participation among voters, including those for whom work or family obligations make it difficult to vote on Election Day, and reduced the congestion that caused such severe waits during the 2004 presidential election in Ohio that some citizens were effectively denied the right to vote. [Obama for America v. Husted, accessed 8/6/12]
NY Times: In 2004, 15,000 People Left The Columbus Polls Without Voting Because Of Long Lines. The New York Times revealed the need for early voting in Ohio after tens of thousands of voters were left disenfranchised on Election day 2004. A voting machine shortage in Youngstown left 8,000 African-American voters disenfranchised when they were unable to cast a ballot. In one county, more than 1,300 people were expected to vote on just two machines:
Everyone complains that young people don't vote, but consider the experience of students at Kenyon College in Ohio in the 2004 election. Officials in Knox County, Ohio, provided just two voting machines for the school's 1,300 voters. Some students waited in line for 10 hours, and the last bleary-eyed voter did not cast a ballot until nearly 4 a.m.
[T]ens of thousands of votes were suppressed by something so mundane that no one thought to focus on it: long lines.
In Columbus, as many as 15,000 people left the polls without voting, many because of long lines. At a postelection hearing, a Youngstown pastor estimated that 8,000 black voters there did not cast ballots because of a machine shortage. [The New York Times, 8/25/08]
And Many Ohio Voters Took Advantage Of Early Voting Access
WSJ: More Than 1.7 Million Ohioans Voted Early In The Last Presidential Election. “More than 1.7 million people in Ohio voted before Election Day in 2008, accounting for about 30% of all ballots cast,” according to The Wall Street Journal. [The Wall Street Journal, Law Blog, 7/18/12]
Beacon Journal: In The Weekend Before Election Day In 2008, Nearly 100,000 Votes Were Cast In Ohio. Almost 100,000 Ohioans utilized the in-person, early voting option the weekend prior to Election Day in 2008. [Akron Beacon Journal, 7/17/12]
By Restricting Early Voting, The Ohio Law Will Disproportionately Affect Minorities And Younger Voters
Brennan Center for Justice: Early Voting Restrictions Most Heavily Disrupt Minorities' Vote. The Brennan Center for Justice noted that ending early voting on Sundays heavily restricts the African American and Hispanic vote:
New restrictions on early voting will also have their biggest impact on people of color. Opponents of these restrictions have been particularly angered by the efforts to eliminate Sunday early voting, which they see as explicitly targeting African-American voters. Florida eliminated early voting on the last Sunday before Election Day, and Ohio has eliminated early voting on Sundays entirely. There is substantial statistical and anecdotal evidence that African Americans (and to a lesser extent Hispanics) vote on Sundays in proportionately far greater numbers than whites. [Brennan Center for Justice, accessed 8/6/12]
Professors Smith And Herron: Eliminating Early Voting The Final Sunday Before Election Day Disproportionately Impacts Minorities And Young Voters. Analyzing changes to Florida's early voting laws, political science professors Daniel Smith and Michael Herron wrote:
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. [Souls to the Polls study, 5/22/12, via PolitiFact]
The Ohio Law Also Negatively Impacts Military Veterans
Veterans' Group Chairman: Cancelling Early Voting The Weekend Prior To Election Day Affects More Than 900,000 Veterans. VoteVets.org chairman Jon Soltz wrote on Think Progress that the Ohio law targeted by the Obama campaign's lawsuit restricts voting access for veterans. He explained:
[S]upporting the Ohio law that would do away with three days of early voting for all but those covered under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voter Act ('UOCAVA'), is supporting the restriction of voting rights for as many as 913,000 Ohio veterans. This includes military retirees with over 20 years of service and multiple deployments.
Once you leave the military, you are no longer covered by UOCAVA. Your voting rights are the same as any civilian. That means the early voting law which Mitt Romney wants to undo, provided hundreds of thousands of Ohio veterans with more of an opportunity to vote. [Think Progress, 8/6/12]