Obama Campaign Calls Ohio Early Vote Law Unconstitutional

Obama for America, the U.S. president’s re-election campaign committee, sued two Ohio officials over changes to state law that limit in-person early voting for some people and not others.

Under the 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. The 2012 election will be held on a Tuesday.

“This lawsuit, at bottom, seeks to treat all Ohio citizens equally under the law,” Donald McTigue, general counsel for the Obama campaign in Ohio, said today on a conference call with reporters after the complaint was filed in federal court in Columbus, the state capital.

Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes, has been a bellwether in U.S. politics and no Republican has been elected president without a victory there. Obama, a Democrat, won the state in 2008 with 51.5 percent of the vote.

The Obama campaign is seeking a court order invalidating the deadline statutes. Named as defendants in its complaint are Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted, both Republicans.

DeWine’s office is reviewing the lawsuit, the attorney general’s spokesman, Dan Tierney, said by phone.

Federal Law

Husted, in a telephone interview, said there is no constitutional violation because federal law treats military voters differently than other voters.

Expanded early voting is perceived to have helped Democrats, especially Obama in 2008, more than Republicans, said Daniel P. Tokaji, a professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and associate director of the law school’s election law center, in a phone interview last year.

The state’s early-voting laws were enacted after the presidential election in 2004, when long lines and broken equipment forced voters to wait as long as seven hours to cast their ballots, according to an Obama campaign press statement released today.

With Monday-deadline early voting in place for the 2008 presidential election, about 30 percent of voters took advantage of it, according to the campaign.

‘Confused’ Process

The state has two different deadlines because of “a confused legislative process,” according to the campaign’s complaint.

The Republican-controlled legislature enacted two laws last year with provisions to move the deadline to the Friday before the election for all voters, then repealed one measure in May to halt a statewide referendum sought by Democrats, the Obama campaign alleged.

“Whether caused by legislative error or partisan motivation, the result of this legislative process is arbitrary and inequitable treatment of similarly situated Ohio voters with respect to in-person early voting,” according to the complaint.

Husted, the secretary of state, said he is taking steps -- including mailing a form for all voters to request an absentee ballot -- to create uniformity and consistency in the state’s election process.

The case is Obama for America v. Husted, 12-cv-636, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio (Columbus).

(Updates with secretary of state’s comment in seventh paragraph.)
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