Last month, a coalition of military groups intervened in a major voting-rights case in Ohio on the side of Republican officials—helping the GOP to make the false charge that the Obama campaign is working to suppress the military vote. The coalition has been described in media reports as above the partisan fray. But according to one key participant, it was organized by a Washington-based Republican lawyer and political operative who has helped launch several other efforts to intervene in voting cases in swing states across the country, always to the benefit of the GOP. And its main point of contact is a Washington lobbyist and former Republican Senate aide who runs a conservative advocacy group.
The involvement of national-level Republicans highlights how crucial the bid to reduce early voting in Ohio is to the party’s—and Mitt Romney’s—hopes this fall.
Earlier this summer, the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee sued the state of Ohio over a Republican-backed law that ended early voting in the three days before Election Day for everyone except members of the military, making it harder for hundreds of thousands of Ohioans—disproportionately African-Americans, research suggests—to vote. Not long afterwards, a coalition of 15 military groups filed documents (pdf) asking to intervene in the lawsuit on the side of the defendant, Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted. The military groups sought “to defend the fundamental constitutional right to vote of members of the U.S. Armed Forces,” according to their brief.
A judge ruled late last month in favor of the Obama campaign, ordering Husted to direct local election boards to prepare to allow early voting for everyone. Husted—joined by the coalition of military groups—is appealing the ruling.
The military coalition has largely escaped scrutiny, even though it appears to have been organized as part of a concerted effort to lend support to Republicans in voting cases—some, as in Ohio, involving efforts to restrict voting rights—in swing states across the country.
The coalition—made up of volunteer groups like the U.S. Army Association, the U.S. Navy Association, and the National Guard Association—was assembled by Michael Morley, a Republican lawyer and political operative, according to Bob Carey, who serves as a point of contact for the coalition. “Michael Morley approached these organizations and put it together himself,” Carey told Lean Forward.
Morley, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment via phone and email and whose name does not appear on the coalition’s court filing, served in the Bush administration as a special assistant to the Army General Counsel. He’s also a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA)—a group of GOP election lawyers that has in the past worked to spread concern over voter fraud despite little evidence that such fraud exists— according to the RNLA’s website. And he appears to have carved out a niche this year launching legal efforts to intervene in voting disputes in swing states, on behalf of Republicans seeking to limit voting rights or otherwise advantage the party’s candidates. Among the recent initiatives he’s been involved in:
• In May, Morley filed a motion seeking to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s controversial Republican-backed voter ID law. He was representing a group of voters who backed the law, saying they were seeking to protect their own votes from being diluted by fraudulent voting.
• In June, Morley filed a similar motion (pdf) on behalf of Wisconsin voters, opposing a lawsuit that challenged a voter ID law pushed by Gov. Scott Walker and state Republicans.
• Last month, Morley represented a group of Iowa voters seeking to knock Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson off the ballot in that state. Johnson, who ran in the Republican presidential primary, could draw crucial votes away from Mitt Romney this fall.
WATCH RACHEL MADDOW’S SEGMENT MONDAY NIGHT ON THE NATIONWIDE GOP WAR ON VOTING: