Supreme Court allows Ohio to purge voters for not voting

Elias Hubbard
June 11, 2018

The US Supreme Court sided with the OH in a case over whether or not the state has the right to cull voters from registers if they go too long without casting a ballot.

By a 5-4 vote that split the conservative and liberal justices, the court rejected arguments in a case from OH that the practice violates a federal law meant to increase the ranks of registered voters. OH wanted to initiate a purge that sent notices to voters if they missed voting for just two years, arguing that it was the subsequent failure to respond to multiple notices that triggered their removal, not failure to vote. And there was no doubt that OH - which has purged 2 million voters since 2011 on various pretexts - would aggressively pursue whatever avenues the courts allowed for restricting the franchise, which happens to benefit the party that has run Ohio's electoral machinery during this period.

Under Ohio's policy, if registered voters miss voting for two years, they are sent registration confirmation notices. The first law, the National Voter Registration Act, was enacted in 1993 to advance two goals: Making it easier for would-be voters to register while at the same time guaranteeing "accurate and current" registration lists.

The 5-4 opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito, with the four liberal justices dissenting.

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The case is the latest skirmish in a nationwide partisan war over ballot access. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud. If voters don't respond and don't vote in the next two general elections, they could be removed from the voter rolls.

OH said it only uses the process after first comparing its voter lists with U.S. Postal Service lists of changed addresses, but not everyone who moves notifies the post office. Voting-rights challengers said the state's approach was among the strictest in the nation. They get a mailed notification asking them to confirm their eligibility. The second law, the 2002 Help America Vote Act, directed the states to maintain a system to cull ineligible voters from their lists. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters. Currently Congress, the Justice Department, and a big majority of states are under the control of a Republican Party that has all but abandoned any interest in vindicating voting rights.

Justice Stephen Breyer issued a dissenting opinion, which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - the other members on the court's liberal wing - joined. "In my view, Ohio's program does just that".

Civil rights groups said the court should be focused on making it easier for people to vote, not allowing states to put up roadblocks to casting ballots. "Marginalized populations remain extremely vulnerable to state-sanctioned voter suppression and disenfranchisement, and we will continue to fight to uphold the rights of eligible voters in the 2018 midterm elections, and beyond". As part of the lawsuit, a judge previous year ordered the state to count 7,515 ballots cast by people whose names had been removed from the voter rolls.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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