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America: ‘Watering Down’ Voting Rights Since 1776

You may have heard rumblings about a fight going on in Ohio over the elimination of early voting on the weekend prior to Election Day. Here are the basics: after the 2004 election, when urban precincts experienced very long lines that surely kept many from voting, the state allowed for several weeks of in-person early voting. After Republicans took control of state government in 2010, they eliminated early voting on the weekend just prior to the election, when 93,000 people voted in 2008. But they left it in place for members of the military. The Obama campaign has filed suit, saying that all Ohioans should be able to vote that weekend, not just members of the military. The Romney campaign has seized on the lawsuit, alleging that it is anti-military and that the Obama campaign is trying to take away voting rights for the military. Fact-checkers have noted that this is not the case, that the lawsuit seeks to broaden early voting rights to all, not take them away from the military.

Which brings us to this: last night, national Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus sent out this tweet: "We need to call out Obama for trying to water down the voting privileges of our military men and women in Ohio."

So. Since reality is making it difficult for the GOP to keep arguing that the lawsuit will take away military voting rights, the next move is apparently to argue that expanding voting rights for all will "water down" the voting rights of the military. Wow. So, expanding voting rights generally -- which, let's face it, tends to favor Democrats -- "waters down" the votes of a Republican-leaning constituency like the military? I may be mistaken, but this seems like a case of accidental and illuminating candor, right up there with the Pennsylvania House majority leader who declared recently that his state's new Voter ID law would win the state for Mitt Romney.

Now, to be fair, Priebus could argue that he was simply referring to a "privilege" for men and women in the military -- the ability to avoid long lines on Election Day, not unlike the way we, say, now let members of the armed forces skip to the front of the line at the Amtrak ticket counter at Union Station. But of course these are not equivalent benefits. If we let everyone skip to the front of the ticket line, there would be chaos. But letting more people vote on the weekend before Election Day will cause no such chaos -- it will just mean that more people will be able to exercise the right to vote -- regular working people who might be unable to get out of work or other responsibilities on Tuesday, just as some members of the military may be unable to get to the polls that day. But that, Priebus is now telling us, would "water down" the military's voting rights. Sort of like expanding the franchise to women "watered down" the voting rights of men, or the Voting Rights Act "watered down" the voting rights of whites. Heck, before you know it, we'll be letting just about anyone in the country vote. And you know what'll happen then.

*Addendum, 10:40 a.m. If anyone's expecting Priebus to think better of this formulation, they'll be disappointed. He just sent out another tweet in response to this post:  "no accident - proud to stand with military men and women."

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis