'Setback for Voting Rights': Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Voter-Purge Process

13 June 2018, 01:42 | Isaac Mcdaniel

Supreme Court decides case on purging voter registration rolls

File All four liberals on the Supreme Court dissented in Monday's 5-4 case upholding Ohio's method of removing voters from its rolls. Sonia Sotomayor went further and focused on something else the impact the ruling will have on minority voters

The ACLU took the state to court and had the Sixth Circuit rule that the state's process of cleaning the voter rolls violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which prohibits states from purging names from the voter registration list exclusively because of the failure to vote and requires the state to notify the individual of the potential change in status before rendering him or her inactive. The majority said that Ohio's policy does not violate the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which prohibits states from wiping the names of people from voter rolls for failing to vote.

The plaintiffs in the case, Husted v A. Philip Randolph Institute, challenged the OH law arguing it violated the National Voter Registration Act. The judge said IN, where 481,000 people have seen their registrations canceled since 2014, must contact voters to give them an opportunity to remain active. He was joined by his four conservative colleagues in an opinion that drew praise from Republican officials and conservative scholars.

The High Court's decision applies to OH and six other states with similar systems - Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oregon, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Montana. "It does not", Justice Alito wrote.

And, sure enough, the Supreme Court split entirely along party lines in Husted.

"This decision is validation of Ohio's efforts to clean up the voter rolls and now with the blessing (of the) nation's highest court, it can serve as a model for other states to use", Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said.

"Marginalized populations remain extremely vulnerable to state-sanctioned voter suppression and disenfranchisement", said Freda Levenson, legal director at the ACLU of Ohio.

The court's dissenters said OH violates a prohibition in federal law against removing voters simply because they are exercising their right not to vote. In recent years, the courts blocked states from verifying the citizenship status of individuals registering to vote.

Many states over the decades had erected barriers to voting, sometimes targeting black voters.

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Under the process, OH voters who haven't cast a ballot in two years get a notice from the state asking them to verify they are eligible to vote. If they fail to respond and go on to not vote for four more years they are dropped from the rolls.

"On the one hand dramatically increasing the number of voters on the voter rolls but, on the other, giving states the flexibility they need to manage the issues that arise when you have over-inflated voter rolls", the Trump administration lawyer Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in a court brief.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

"This case comes out of OH, but Georgia and several other states are trying to do the same thing".

It is no surprise the case comes from OH, which has the nation's strictest law on removing voters and is a closely divided state nearly always seen as a battleground in national politics.

OH sends a notice after a voter skips a single federal election cycle. He voted in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections but did not vote in 2012, saying he was unimpressed by the candidates. OH sent him a notice, but Harmon said he does not remember receiving it.

The U.S. Justice Department had switched its position in the case to support Ohio. Failing to vote is not allowed as the trigger for notices, he argued.



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