Supreme Court upholds OH voter registration purge policy

Advocates fear court decision on Ohio could pave the way for more voter purges

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A handful of other states also use voters' inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from the voting rolls.

The Supreme Court gave OH the green light to remove voters from the state's registration records if they have not voted in at least two years. By a vote of 5-4, the justices agreed that the practice under question - which cancels the registration of voters who do not go to the polls and who then fail to respond to a notice - does not violate federal laws governing voter registration. This decision is risky and damaging and is NOT why we passed the National Voter Registration Act in '93.

The case was the latest in a series of battles against attempts by some states to restrict voting rights and combat alleged voter fraud.

The case became a proxy for the highly partisan fight over the country's election rules. "Ohio simply treats the failure to return a notice and the failure to vote as evidence that a registrant has moved, not as a ground for removal. And Justice Sotomayer has not pointed to any evidence in the record that OH instituted or has carried out its program with discriminatory intent".

Voters purged from registration rolls who sued to challenge the policy in the Republican-governed state said the practice illegally erased thousands of voters from registration rolls and disproportionately impacted racial minorities and poor people who tend to back Democratic candidates.

While lawyers for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said the procedure is needed to remove dead people from the rolls and resolve the cases of voters who have multiple registrations, the challengers argued it might be more appropriate to use driver's license and post office change-of-address information, non-forwardable mail, and databases that show whether voters have moved.

If they do not respond to the notice or do not vote over the next four years, they are dropped from the registration rolls. The court's decision essentially endorses "the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against", Sotomayor wrote.

OH has used voters' inactivity to trigger the removal process since 1994, although groups representing voters did not sue the Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, until 2016.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision a "setback for voting rights".

The 1993 federal law, known by its acronym NVRA, was enacted to make it easier to register. He is running for lieutenant-governor this November on the Republican ticket headed by Mike DeWine, the current attorney general.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would nominate Eric Murphy, the OH lawyer who argued the case on the state's behalf, to a seat on the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

And thus Ohio's program for maintaining voter rolls is legal. A three-judge panel on that court had ruled 2-1 that Ohio's practice was illegal.

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