LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of trying to "undermine" service members' voting rights by filing a lawsuit against the state of Ohio seeking to make early-balloting rules the same for civilians and members of the military.
The lawsuit calls for all voters to be allowed to cast an early ballot as late as the Monday before election day – which was how things worked in Ohio until 2011, when the Legislature instituted a Friday cutoff for non-military members and their families. The suit does not call for reducing early voting access for service members.
Romney contends that the state was within its rights to give service members special privileges.
"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," Romney said in a statement Saturday. " …. If I'm entrusted to be the commander in chief, I'll work to protect the voting rights of our military, not undermine them."
The disagreement between the two camps hinges on the Constitution: Obama argues that all citizens must be afforded equal voting access, while Romney maintains that it is legal for active members of the military and their families to receive extra privileges.
Some conservative media outlets have wrongly accused Obama of trying to take away service members' early voting privileges. The lawsuit, filed in July by the Obama campaign and national and state Democrat groups, argues that having a two-tiered voting system is unconstitutional and that all citizens must have the same voting rights.
Katie Biber, general counsel for the Romney campaign, said Romney believes it is constitutional for members of the military and their family to be afforded special voting rights.
"Making it easier for service men and women and their families to vote early is not only constitutional, but commendable," she said. "It is not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause to give military voters special flexibility in early voting. The Ohio Legislature had every right to make this policy. It is shocking for the commander in chief to question whether military voters serving under his command can receive special consideration in voting."
A spokesman for the Obama campaign said Romney was trying to restrict access to the polls and was "fabricating" the notion that Democrats sought to restrict voting rights.
"The real story of what is happening in the Buckeye State is that Mitt Romney supports the Republican effort to stop people from voting by restricting their access to the polls," Rob Diamond, the head of Obama’s veterans and military families coalition, said in a statement. "In 2008, more than 93,000 Ohioans utilized early voting in the three days before the election.... The Republican Legislature is attempting to remove from the vast majority of voters -- including veterans of our armed services -- the early voting rights they enjoyed in 2008. This latest Republican attack on rights of voters is shameful -- and so is Mitt Romney’s endorsement of it."
The lawsuit and the reaction reflect the importance of Ohio and its 18 electoral votes in the upcoming election. It is a battleground state that voted for Obama in 2008 that the Romney campaign is fiercely contesting. Early voters tend to be older citizens, women and the poor, of which the last two categories tend to favor Democrats.