I have written this cover piece for the Sunday San Diego Union-Tribune opinion section. It begins:
It’s the election season, and the battle for the presidency and control of Congress is being fought not just through voter registration drives, endless campaign ads, and stadium rallies, but also in courts across America. Litigation over election rules has become increasingly commonplace since the disputed 2000 election in Florida, which led to the United States Supreme Court choosing George W. Bush over Al Gore. And as in 2000, the question of military voters and military ballots is back in the media and legal spotlight, with Republicans unfairly accusing Democrats of being anti-military.
A federal district court in Ohio will soon decide the Obama campaign’s challenge to an unusual Ohio law. The law allows military voters and overseas voters, but no other voters, the right to cast an in-person ballot in the three days before Election Day. Democrats argue that this law is unconstitutional because it “requires election officials to turn most Ohio voters, including veterans, firefighters, police officers, nurses, small business owners and countless other citizens, away from open voting locations, while admitting military and nonmilitary overseas voters and their families who are physically present in Ohio and able to vote in person.”
The claim that Democrats were trying to undermine the military vote was especially ironic. The only significant federal election legislation to pass out of Congress since 2002 was the MOVE Act, a bill championed by Democrats to extend military voting rights. Overseas military voter turnout is abysmal, and the MOVE Act was a small step in the right direction by requiring states to get ballots to military voters on time. Still, Republicans have repeatedly criticized the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice for not implementing the MOVE Act aggressively enough against states which have sought waivers from its provisions.
Perhaps the Democrats are willing to fight about military ballots this time because of how they got burned in the Florida 2000 dispute. As I detail in my new book, “The Voting Wars,”; during the recounts of the ballots lawyers for Gore had been fighting against the counting of overseas ballots which did not have a postmark showing a foreign mailing before Election Day. When Republicans got wind of this, they accused Democrats of being anti-military. Democrats asked vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman to put the controversy to rest, but he said on the NBC news program “Meet the Press” that military ballots received by county canvassing boards should be given the benefit of the doubt.