Early Voting Lawsuit In Ohio Draws Ire From Romney Campaign

The Romney campaign and some military groups say that a lawsuit by the Obama campaign challenging early voting laws in Ohio threatens the ability of service members to cast early ballots. The Obama campaign and many legal experts say that that is not the intention at all, that the lawsuit instead seeks to restore early voting options for all voters in the state.

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The presidential campaign is being fought on many fronts. The latest skirmish is over who gets to vote early in the crucial swing state of Ohio. Republican Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of threatening the ability of military voters to cast ballots before Election Day. But the Obama insists nothing could be further from the truth.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: It all started last month when the Obama campaign filed a federal lawsuit against a new Ohio law. The campaign said the law was unconstitutional because it allows military voters to cast ballots in the three days before the election when other residents cannot. The suit asks the court to return things to the way they used to be and allow all Ohio voters to vote right up until Election Day. Then last week, 15 military groups, including AMVETS and the National Guard Association of the United States, filed a motion to dismiss the Obama lawsuit. They said the law is constitutional. Ohio's attorney general, Mike DeWine, a defendant in the suit, says there's a long history of special privileges for military voters.

ATTORNEY GENERAL MIKE DEWINE: The reason is that the people who serve our country in the military have unique challenges and unique problems in regarding to voting and getting to the polls.

FESSLER: But the Romney campaign took things a step further. In a written statement Friday, Mitt Romney called the Obama lawsuit an outrage, and he said he would defend the rights of military voters, implying that President Obama wanted to take them away. Today, some military veterans responded.

PATRICK MURPHY: When it comes to Mitt Romney, I feel like he lives in bizarro world.

FESSLER: That's former Democratic congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, an Iraq War veteran and board member of VoteVets.org, a left-leaning veterans group. Murphy says Republicans are the ones who want to take away voting rights by enacting new restrictions, like those in Ohio.

MURPHY: He's trying to pull the wool over people's eyes and trying to use our veterans as props.

FESSLER: And indeed, the Obama campaign has counterattacked with a vengeance. Appearing yesterday on "Fox News Sunday," the president's senior campaign adviser, David Axelrod, accused the Romney campaign of making false and misleading claims.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY WITH CHRIS WALLACE")

DAVID AXELROD: What that lawsuit calls for is not to deprive the military of the right to vote in - on the final weekend of the campaign. Of course, they should have that right.

FESSLER: Axelrod said that the suit is about whether the rest of Ohio's voters should have that same right as well, and that's pretty much how many legal experts see it. Dan Tokaji is with the Moritz School of Law at Ohio State University. He says it's unlikely that any court would use the case to limit early voting for the military.

DAN TOKAJI: It seems pretty clear to me that in these circumstances the only practical relief a court can order is to level up by allowing all voters to use early voting in the three days immediately before Election Day.

FESSLER: But he adds it's also not clear that the court will decide in President Obama's favor. Tokaji notes ever since the disputed 2000 president election, there's been great uncertainty in election law. What is certain is that each side is trying to use these laws to its advantage, whenever possible. The Obama lawsuit notes that 93,000 Ohio voters cast ballots in the three days before the 2008 election, and studies have shown that this early voting is especially popular with African-Americans, who overwhelming support the president. Pam Fessler, NPR News.

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