Published: Thu, January 11, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Supreme Court Weighs Purge of Ohio Voting Rolls

Supreme Court Weighs Purge of Ohio Voting Rolls

If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are purged from the rolls.

A decision upholding Ohio's law would pave the way for more aggressive vote purging efforts in OH and other states, while the law's elimination would "send a strong signal that the federal government and the National Voter Registration Act place important limits on what states can and can't do with their voter rolls", says Dale Ho, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. The challengers point to a provision in the federal law that bars states from removing anyone "by reason of the person's failure to vote".

Without that decision, "the ballots of more than 7,500 eligible Ohioans would have gone uncounted in the November 2016 election", Mr. Harmon's lawyers at Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a Supreme Court brief.

An analysis by Reuters found the policy favors Republicans in the state's largest metropolitan areas by removing voters from the rolls in Democratic leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods. "Other times I didn't like either of the candidates".

Now that President Trump has dissolved his shady voter fraud commission, a Supreme Court case being heard Wednesday represents fraud alarmists' next best chance to boost their voter purge campaigns.

"They want the ability to use non-voting to remove people", Demos senior counsel Stuart Naifeh, who is representing the OH challengers, told TPM. Do you want to update your information?' It's done to try to be helpful to the voter and helping them update their information and also to make sure that we maintain the voter rolls, which is another piece of the law.

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Opponents of Ohio's policy rallied outside the high court as the justices convened to hear arguments.

Voting-rights activists say the state is pulling the trigger much too fast, and there are plenty of reasons someone might miss multiple elections, and then ignore the mailed-out reminder.

Andre Washington, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute in OH, echoed Sotomayor in a statement on Wednesday, arguing that "voter purges, like Ohio's supplemental process, disproportionately affect low income voters and voters of color who face countless barriers to casting their ballot".

"Ohio is the only state that commences such a process based on the failure to vote in a single federal election cycle", said a brief from the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice.

"Why? Because I didn't think any of them were going to serve my community in the way that it needed", he said. People who do not respond and don't vote over the next four years, including in two more federal elections, are dropped from the list of registered voters.

The practice is overseen by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican candidate for governor in 2018. (The purge process that is being challenged was the result of a lawsuit brought by Popper's group Judicial Watch, the same lawsuit in which Adams was listed of counsel.) A Judicial Watch spokesperson told TPM Popper was not available to comment for this story. And the secretary of state's office should do everything it can to help them.

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OH has a controversial practice of removing voters from the rolls who have not cast ballots in years, and an investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer/USA Today Network found the practice of deleting and tracking voters was not uniform across Ohio's 88 counties. Because a large proportion of voters only vote in presidential years, he said they have to miss just one presidential election to be kicked off its rolls.

The problem - according to Paul Smith, who is representing OH civil groups in the case - is that most people simply toss the notice "into the waste basket".

"They want to protect the voter roll from people that have moved, and they're voting in the wrong district", said Anthony Kennedy, often the deciding vote when the court is closely divided. "Fifty or 60 percent of the voters in OH routinely don't vote over a two-year period". Republicans say voter rolls need scrutiny to prevent fraud and promote ballot integrity, while Democrats insist the efforts are meant to reduce turnout from Democratic-leaning groups like racial minorities.

But the right to vote is not "use it or lose it".

A decision in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, 16-980, is expected by late June.

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