Battle over Ohio military voting law reflects high political stakes

FNC's Bret Baier on the states Mitt Romney is focusing on in the Presidential election.


An obscure Ohio voting law is suddenly at the center of a nasty dispute between the Obama and Romney campaigns -- months before Election Day, in a case that underscores how the campaigns are poised to fight for every last vote. 

The Obama campaign says its court challenge to Ohio's policy is about basic fairness. The campaign objects to the state's two-tiered system allowing members of the military to participate in early voting until the Monday before Election Day, while everybody else faces a Friday deadline. 

But there's no denying the dispute is rich with political implications. In a close race, the campaigns are preemptively fighting over a contest that could hold electoral sway akin to Florida's in 2000. 

"I think that everything that's been done, everything that's been said is political, on both sides," said John Goheen, spokesman with the National Guard Association of the United States, which, along with more than a dozen other military groups, filed a motion opposing the Obama campaign's suit. 

Here are a few relevant facts:  

More On This...

  • Polling consistently shows military members less keen on President Obama than non-military. Gallup polling in May gave Mitt Romney a 58-34 advantage over Obama among veterans.  
  • Ohio has 18 electoral votes. Obama narrowly won the state in 2008. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio.
  • Ohio's two-tiered system is unusual. However, Ohio is hardly alone among early voting states in making Friday the cutoff for most voters. Of the 32 states that allow early voting, most of them end that voting by the Friday before the election. Only 11 states allow early voting until Monday. 

So why, then, the sudden attention on Ohio's voting law? 

Because it's Ohio, said Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University. 

"This is one of the states where you can't not punch back," Schmidt told FoxNews.com. 

Schmidt said he doubts this dispute -- over military members getting three extra days to vote -- will amount to an election-deciding moment. 

But he said it shows how hyper-focused both campaigns are on just a handful of battleground states, from the ads in those states to the court challenges over voter laws. 

Schmidt suggested this could be risky business for the Obama campaign, since "you don't ever want to really take on the military" or at least create that impression. But he said that if the Obama campaign can put out the message that other voters aren't getting a fair shake, it could end up energizing non-military Obama supporters in the state. 

Meanwhile, the lawsuit -- and subsequent challenge from military groups -- has turned into somewhat of a political Rorschach test. 

Romney's campaign effectively accused Obama of objecting to military early-voting privileges. Obama's campaign countered that, to the contrary, it merely wanted to extend that lengthy period for everybody. 

"The way Gov. Romney stated [the situation] is completely false," Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's shameful that Gov. Romney would hide behind our service men and women." 

Romney's campaign countered again, with counsel Katie Biber releasing a memo Sunday defending the state of Ohio. 

"It is not only constitutional, but commendable that the Ohio Legislature granted military voters and their families this accommodation. It is despicable for the Obama campaign to challenge Ohio's lawful decision," she wrote. 

Goheen told FoxNews.com that, while military groups filed the motion in opposition to the Obama campaign's suit, his association actually has no objection to making Monday the cutoff for everybody. 

He said the association got involved mainly to make sure "our members in Ohio had a voice," and is staying out of the politics of the dispute.  

"What we don't want to see happen is a pullback of military voting rights to that Friday," he said. 

Ohio used to allow everybody to vote until Monday, but Ohio's GOP-controlled government changed the law and created the two-tiered system.