In a move that could have an impact on the final result of the presidential election, Barack Obama’s campaign has sued Ohio to block a measure which extends early voting for members of the military.
The action brought quick responses from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and as many as 15 military groups.
DeWine told Fox News on Friday that he found the July 17 action by Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party “quite shocking."
The tradition for allowing special circumstances for military personnel in voting dates back to the civil war, he said.
Republicans traditionally have had the lock on the military vote, and with Ohio being a key battleground state especially this year — Obama leads GOP challenger Mitt Romney there by only 6 points in the latest Quinnipiac University poll — these military votes could swing the Nov. 6 election to either candidate.
And as the Buckeye State is considered one of the key marginals, a victory for either candidate there could end up being the difference between taking the White House and losing it.
“I’m just outraged by this,” DeWine told Fox on Friday. “I can’t believe that the Obama campaign [and] the state Democratic Party are actually saying there’s no rational basis for a distinction between someone who is in the military voting, and somebody not in the military.
“Our whole history in this country, we’ve made a distinction between the two, recognizing the difficulties, and the unique situation that people in the military are in.”
The Obama campaign sued Republicans DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted, contending Ohio’s two-tiered early voting process violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection under the law.
Ohio is among 32 states that allow voters to cast an early ballot by mail or in person without an excuse. In 2008, about 30 percent of the swing state's total vote — or roughly 1.7 million ballots — came in ahead of Election Day.
In addition, state law allows families of armed forces members and civilians overseas to vote through the Monday before an election, while early voting for all other Ohioans ends the preceding Friday. The Nov. 6 election falls on a Tuesday.
The Obama lawsuit said that the latter part of the Ohio law is “arbitrary” with “no discernible rational basis” — and that all voters should be able to vote on those days. The campaign seeks a court order invalidating the statutes.
In his response, filed late on Wednesday, DeWine noted that all Ohioans have numerous voting options, which include casting an absentee by mail starting 35 days before the election, casting an in-person ballot on other days, and voting at their polling location on Election Day.
Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, has been critical to U.S. politics, and no Republican has been elected president without a victory there. Obama won the state in 2008 with 51.5 percent of the vote.
But remaining ahead of his Republican opponent is proving tougher for Obama this time around. A survey by Quinnipiac University earlier this week shows the president leading Romney by only 6 points, 50 to 44 percent.
The military vote has traditionally gone Republican. In 2008, Obama lost among veterans to Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam War hero, 55 to 45 percent. Four years earlier, GOP President George W. Bush outdistanced Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, another Vietnam veteran, among former service personnel by 57 to 41 percent.
In addition, military members and their families generally tend to vote in higher percentages than the general public, according to federal election data.
The Obama for America lawsuit comes after several election-law changes cleared Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature and GOP Gov. John Kasich signed them.
Before the changes, local election boards had the discretion to set their own early, in-person voting hours on the days before the election. People were allowed up until the day before the election to vote in person. Weekend voting varied among the state's 88 counties.
With the changes, most Ohioans now have until the Friday evening before the Tuesday election to cast a ballot in person. But military voters can continue to vote in person until Monday.
Separately, the National Guard Association of the United States and more than a dozen other fraternal military groups asked a U.S. judge for permission to intervene and oppose the Democrats' lawsuit.
“Members of the U.S. Armed Forces risk their lives to keep this nation safe and defend the fundamental constitutional right to vote,” the military groups said in in their request.
“The Obama campaign’s and Democratic National Committee’s argument that it is arbitrary and unconstitutional to afford special consideration, flexibility, and accommodations to military voters to make it easier for them to vote in person is not only offensive, but flatly wrong as a matter of law,” the groups said.
They’ve asked U.S. District Judge Peter Economus for permission to join the case on the side of the state, and to oppose the Obama campaign’s request for injunctive relief. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 15.
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