Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Purge of Voting Rolls

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The U.S. Supreme Court gave states more power to purge their voting databases of people who haven't cast ballots recently, upholding an OH system that could become a model for other Republican-controlled states. More than half the voters in OH fail to cast a ballot over a two-year period, the group said, and those who receive the state's notices simply throw them away.

Unlike many voting cases that come before the court, Wednesday's case centered not on grand constitutional principles but on interpreting seemingly contradictory directives of federal law.

Harmon learned that, although he had lived in the same place for more than 16 years, he had been removed from the voter rolls because he had not voted in 2009 and 2010; he also had not responded - because he said he didn't remember receiving it - to a notice that the state elections board had sent him in 2011 to confirm his eligibility. "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". If they do not respond to the notice, and if they fail to vote for another two years, their registrations are canceled.

The case was Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. But not everyone who moves notifies the post office, the state said.

"With the midterm election season now underway, the court's ruling demands heightened levels of vigilance as we anticipate that officials will read this ruling as a green light for loosely purging the registration rolls in their community", said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. That law states that "nothing in this paragraph may be construed to prohibit a state from using the procedures described" in the motor voter law.

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And thus Ohio's program for maintaining voter rolls is legal. "States may use whatever trigger they think best", to trigger the voter removal process, including the failure to vote. 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.

OH aggressively trims its voter rolls by sending notices to people who have not voted in two years.

Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor wrote dissents, with Justice Sotomayor accusing the majority of trampling on the right to vote, saying she feared it would be used against minorities. The Supreme Court overturned that decision today.

But Ohio's law was considered the harshest in the nation because it kick-started the purging process after only two years. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have implemented automatic voter registration policies or laws, in which eligible voters are registered or their addresses are updated when they come into contact with a government agency like the Department of Motor Vehicles. In most cases, the Supreme Court refuses to hear the appeal.

Aside from all the other good reasons to encourage more voting, there's also this: In 2016, USA voter turnout hit a 20-year-low.