Recently circulated by military organizations and conservative critics is the claim that President Barack Obama is seeking to “restrict military voting rights”.
The claims originated with Ohio trying to pass a new law that would allow military members three extra days to vote early (specifically the Saturday through Monday before Election Day). Early voting for all other voters ends on Friday. The Obama administration brought a lawsuit to block the new law, arguing that if the polls are open for extra days, they should be open to all.
John Fund, a columnist on the conservative site National Review, says,
“Regardless of how the judge rules, the Obama lawsuit seeks to establish a dangerous precedent that would diminish the rights of military voters — who already face serious obstacles to voting.”
This is over-dramatic to say the least. The lawsuit is not attempting to ban military voters from voting early. It is simply trying to allow all voters the same extra days. According to the National Defense Committee, many members of the military may not vote because,
“[f]or each of the last three years, the Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program has reported to the President and the Congress that the number one reason for military voter disenfranchisement is inadequate time to successfully vote.”
There are also millions of non-military people who say they don’t vote because they “don’t have time”. If you cannot find five minutes every four years to vote, especially when there are early voting days before the election, you do not have the right to blame the system for “not enough time”.
It is true that there are problems with voting from overseas – ballots arriving late, getting lost, etc. These are important issues that must be addressed – but the Ohio law criticized under Obama’s lawsuit does nothing to solve any of those problems. I strongly believe the military members deserve extra respect and accommodations, but extra in-person voting days do nothing to help those deployed overseas.
It all comes down to the fact that both parties are trying to use this for political advantage. Conservatives want to limit the extra days to military voters, because military voters generally lean to the right. President Obama wants to take advantage of scooping up some weekend voters too, including the Democrat-friendly “Souls to the Polls” efforts, where churches bus their congregations to the polling places after the morning service.
Both sides will resort to whatever strategies they can to get an edge for this election. The truth is that military members still retain the right to vote, just like the rest of us.
A variation of this article was originally published in the Baylor Lariat on 8/31/12.