Will SCOTUS Green-Light Ohio's Hardcore Voter Purge Regime Nationwide?

Posted January 13, 2018

The first major voting rights case of the year comes before the Supreme Court Wednesday, when Justices hear arguments over the state of Ohio's "supplemental process" for removing people from voter registration lists.

The plaintiffs in the case allege the process violates a provision in federal law that bars states from removing people from the rolls simply because they don't vote.

But Secretary Husted says that the benefits a threefold- "The administrative benefit is confidence that you don't have a bunch of people who are illegally on the voter rolls which undermines confidence in the election system". She also questioned why the Department of Justice, which argued for 10 minutes in support of OH, switched positions in the litigation.

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted noted that the state's policy has been in place since the 1990s under Republican and Democratic secretaries of state.

A handful of states use processes similar to the one used in OH, but civil rights groups say the state is particularly aggressive in purging people from the rolls.

The Supreme Court has heard a bevy of voting rights cases since its controversial 2013 decision striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, which had forced mostly Southern states to clear changes in election laws with federal officials.

Sotomayor pressed Murphy on the consequences the OH process would have, particularly on poor and minority populations.

The main argument on behalf of voters whose registrations were canceled is that federal voting law specifically prohibits states from using voter inactivity to trigger purges.

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Partisan tweaks of election laws to either make it easier to vote or impose more exacting restrictions are a constant across the country. Anybody with half a brain knows that OH is doing it to make it more hard for poor people to vote, in a move it hopes suppresses turnout for Democratic and third-party candidates. If they do not respond, voters are given an additional four years to cast a ballot. If the court allows OH to continue to remove voters based in part on their past failure to cast a ballot, other states will likely follow suit and millions of Americans across the country could find themselves disenfranchised because they have not recently voted. The state said it only uses the disputed process after first comparing its voter lists with a US postal service list of people who have reported a change of address. Both laws also allow states to send confirmation notices to voters that may have moved. The notice asks that voters confirm their registration by responding to the notice, changing their registration online, or voting in the next four years.

Ohio's mailed Confirmation Notice, which explains the steps voters must take to avoid removal from the rolls, is, of course, generally only provided in English. In 2016, more than 7,500 voters showed up at the polls and found their names missing, forcing them to vote a provisional ballot, OH elections officials said.

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.

The move is so unusual that [PFAW Foundation affiliate] People for the American Way submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for communications between Ohio State Solicitor Eric Murphy and John Gore, acting director of the civil rights division at the Justice Department. He called the process "vastly over broad" and rife with "a lot of false positives". He asked Smith how the state of Rhode Island, for example, could know if one of its eligible voters had moved to Tasmania and died there.

Voting-rights activists say the notices only go out after someone doesn't vote, so lack of voting is still the cause of being erased. "We are fighting in every state to protect and expand the right to vote". Those returned as undeliverable would then be used by pro-GOP election officials to purge thousands of otherwise legal voters-ignoring a 1993 federal law laying out how to clean up voter rolls.

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on the validity of an OH voting regulation that critics call the "use it or lose it" rule.

Smith questioned why OH needed such an aggressive purging tactic at all, saying only 3 percent of Americans move each year and many take steps to update their address.