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Military groups challenge lawsuit on early voting



Published: Fri, August 3, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press

COLUMBUS

Fifteen military groups are opposing a federal lawsuit in Ohio brought by President Barack Obama’s campaign because they say it could threaten voter protections afforded to service members, such as the extended time they have to cast a ballot.

Obama’s campaign and Democrats filed the lawsuit last month against Ohio’s top elections official in a dispute over the battleground state’s law that restricts early, in-person voting during the final three days before Election Day.

The campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party contend the law unfairly ends in-person voting for most Ohioans three days earlier than it does for military and overseas voters.

Attorneys for the Democrats argue such “disparate” treatment is unconstitutional, and all voters should be able to vote on those days.

AMVETS, the National Guard Association of the United States, the Association of the U.S. Army and other organizations asked a judge late Wednesday to dismiss the lawsuit.

The military groups say federal and state law recognizes that service members need extra time to cast their ballots. They say they fear the precedent that could be set if a court finds that military voters shouldn’t be treated differently than other voters.

“Efforts to facilitate and maximize military voting should be welcomed, not viewed with constitutional suspicion,” the groups said in a court filing that seeks to intervene in the case.

Ohio is one of 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.

Obama for America’s lawsuit comes after a series of election law changes cleared the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. John Kasich signed them.

Before the changes, local boards of election had the discretion to set their own early, in-person voting hours on the days before the election.

People were allowed up until Monday before the Tuesday 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.

Democrats contend the legislative changes to the in-person, early-voting deadlines resulted in “arbitrary and inequitable” treatment of similarly situated voters.

The office of Ohio’s Republican attorney general, who is also being sued along with the secretary of state, responded to the campaign’s lawsuit late Wednesday in a court filing.

Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office noted that all Ohioans have numerous voting options that 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.

“These options, absent the possibility of a few more hours, do not harm anyone,” wrote Richard Coglianese, an assistant attorney general.


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