Civil and Human Rights Coalition: Justice Department Continues to Undermine Voting Rights

Elias Hubbard
August 8, 2017

Now the U.S. Justice Department, traditionally (in Republican as well as Democratic administrations) the great defender of voting rights, is supporting Ohio's right to go after the voting rolls with form letters and hedge-clippers.

Ohio's system for removing inactive voters from the rolls does not violate the National Voter Registration Act, the Justice Department said Monday.

"After this court's grant of review and the change in administrations, the department reconsidered the question", attorneys wrote in the new brief.

The Trump Justice Department is undermining the ability of people to vote, said Brenda Wright, the vice president of policy and legal strategies at Dēmos, which is representing the plaintiffs in the OH case.

OH has been sending notices to voters who didn't cast ballots during a two-year period to inquire whether they had moved, died or otherwise become ineligible to vote.

OH (more specifically its secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial candidate, John Husted) wants to purge voters from the rolls if they don't cast ballots for six years and don't respond to a single inquiry seeking to verify their status.

The Supreme Court said in May it would hear the case.

A Justice Department spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. While most states will wait until there is some indication that a voter may have moved (ie. return of a piece of mail or notice from the USPS) before turning to the process set forth in the NVRA, some states including OH and Georgia, send the notice based on mere voter inactivity alone. Those groups say OH was unfairly disenfranchising eligible OH voters.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found those purges to be illegal in September 2016, siding with the ACLU of OH and groups that represent homeless Ohioans and communities of color. "In keeping with their reversal in our Texas voter ID case, Veasey v. Perry, the Justice Department has once again discarded years of legal guidance and shirked its responsibility to defend the right to vote", Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement. Harmon hadn't voted since 2008, and he learned he was one of roughly 1.2 million people purged from Ohio's rolls for "infrequent voting". In its brief, the Justice Department indicates that it has "now concluded that the NVRA does not prohibit a State from using nonvoting as the basis for sending a Section 20507 (d)(2) notice". "By allowing these types of purges, that will mean people who are eligible to vote will have their registration suspended".

The Justice Department's reversal comes as the Trump administration has focused on voter integrity initiatives. Several other groups, including former attorneys with the Justice Department's Civil Rights division and attorneys general from 17 states, have adopted the same position, Husted said.

"This case is about maintaining the integrity of our elections, something that will be harder to do if elections officials are not be able to properly maintain the voter rolls", Husted said in a statement Tuesday.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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