Election Day in Ohio in 2004 was a disaster in that the state was obviously unprepared for the number of voters who came to vote. Some voting lasted until the early hours of the next morning and provisional ballots were improperly used, causing a significant number of them to be discounted. As a response (in part as well as for other reasons it seems), the State of Ohio opened up an early voting period for any voters in the days prior to Election Day in order to ease the burden on the big day and the potential for screw-ups (i.e., discounting valid votes). This option was used extensively since, particularly in the final three days before Election Day. However, this past year the Ohio House of Representatives passed a law that maintained early in-person voting rights in the final 3 days before Election Day only for Ohioans subject to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) - most of whom are military members and their families. This bill removed the right of all other Ohioans to vote early in person in the final 3 days running up to Election Day, cutting their early voting off on the Friday prior. To sum, every Ohioan had been able to vote early in person in the three days before Election Day until this year when the Ohio legislature changed the law so that only military personnel and their families could do this. The Obama campaign, and others, have sued the State of Ohio to reinstate early in-person voting for all of Ohio, not just those subject to UOCAVA. Please read this, this, and this for more perspective (thanks to Hayes Brown - @HayesBrown - for providing the Slate link to get this started for me).
The response from Mr. Obama's political opponents can be most kindly described as misrepresenting the Obama campaign's lawsuit. The Romney campaign has billed it as an attempt to suppress military votes - suggesting that the lawsuit was attempting to remove military members' ability to vote early instead of reinstating all Ohioans' ability to vote early. The Romney campaign is supported on this position by a number of influential military-affiliated organizations, including the Association of the U.S. Army. Their argument is petty politics and they're using smoke and mirrors to attack the Obama campaign. Fine. There is a lot of political football in this, but that does negate the fact that the Obama campaign is in no way suing to prevent extra time for military personnel from Ohio to vote. It also has absolutely nothing to do with mail-in absentee ballots from overseas. This is the bottom line and these facts are not (should not be, rather) in contention.
At this point you're probably asking yourself why I'm going on about this on a relatively apolitical security blog. If you move beyond the pandering, obfuscation, and outright lying that passes for political discourse, this issue has given the darkest and most extreme voices of CMR a drum to beat upon. Congressman Allen West issued a statement in which he doesn't propagate the Romney campaign lie of disenfranchising military, but instead avers that what the President is trying to do is offensive:
how dare this President compare the service, sacrifice, and commitment of those who Guard our liberties not as special and seek to compare them to everyone else.Poor use of the English language aside, a sitting member of the U.S. House of Representatives is saying the law in Ohio should stand as it is because those that serve our nation in arms are better than everyone else and should be given an edge. You can't even compare those in uniform to the rest of society. It seems that Mr. West believes service members deserve more rights, more democracy than those who do not serve. Don't think this is a prevalent viewpoint among many Americans, especially those who have or are serving? Right-leaning blog This Ain't Hell covered the Ohio voting issue along the same lines. This poem, ubiquitous among military/veteran Facebook pages and crappy PX art expos, explicitly states how much more important veterans are than other members of society. Or the old quote, too often mis-attributed to George Orwell:
People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.Thank God for those rough men or the rest of you weenies would have a rough go of it. All of those policemen, firemen, engineers, architects, sewage maintenance types, water purifiers and others who contribute to our way of life should, in contrast, apparently keep me up all night. Still think I'm reading too much into this? The Stolen Valor Act was an attempt to criminalize a narrow band of lying to prevent people from pretending to be a decorated service member or veteran and that such lies somehow diminish the acts of valor that really occurred. Read commentary on the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Act and tell me it doesn't reek of men and women offended that others deign to pretend they are in this elite and protected element of society (and then read the comments sections of those and similar posts). I ask: why was lying about having advanced degrees or sleeping with members of the opposite sex or about your personal wealth not also outlawed? The only conclusion I can come up with is that they aren't special like the military and therefore not worthy of special protection.
There are a number of reasons why the public treats current and former military members and family as special, including their very real sacrifices over the past 10 years of war and Vietnam guilt. Some of that is warranted. But this pernicious belief that these self-selecting members of society are better, beyond comparison to rest of the country, and thus deserving of greater helpings of democracy than the rest is anti-democratic and antithetical to any reasonable theories of civil-military relations necessary to keep our society safe. There is a reason they are called service members - their volunteering to serve our society does not grant them more rights and privileges. Some remediation is necessary to repair inequities created by their service (such as veterans' healthcare and jobs programs), but their rights as citizens are not impaired. Embracing acts that go beyond correcting inequalities and that instead promote the creation of a special caste of citizens with more rights is exactly the kind of attitude that could help foment a warrior caste that would in actuality upend the balance of civil-military relations. Huntington weeps and our country hurts for it.