'Setback for Voting Rights': Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Voter-Purge Process

Leroy Wright
June 11, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of Ohio Monday - upholding its practice of purging people from registration rolls if they fail to vote.

In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court emphasized that subsection (d) of the NVRA specifically allows states to remove a voter who "has failed to respond to a notice" and "has not voted or appeared to vote".

"On the one hand dramatically increasing the number of voters on the voter rolls but, on the other, giving states the flexibility they need to manage the issues that arise when you have over-inflated voter rolls", the Trump administration lawyer Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in a court brief.

Justice Samuel Alito says that OH is complying with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. He was joined by his four conservative colleagues.

The four liberal justices dissented. This term, it faces cases from Wisconsin and Maryland challenging what opponents claim were election maps drawn by state legislators for purely partisan gain.

Democrats have accused Republicans of taking steps at the state level, including laws requiring certain types of government-issued identification, meant to suppress the vote of minorities, poor people and others who generally favour Democratic candidates.

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Under the disputed procedure, OH mails notices to people who haven't voted in two years, asking them to confirm that they still live at that address. "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".

"The right to vote is not 'use it or lose it, ' Carson said".

A decision upholding Ohio's law will pave the way for more aggressive vote-purging efforts in OH and other states, said Dale Ho, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. They get a mailed notification asking them to confirm their eligibility.

OH sends a notice to registered voters who fail to cast a ballot over a two-year period. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters. That law bars states from removing anyone "by reason of the person's failure to vote".

The Ohio program follows this to the letter.
The 1993 voter registration act was enacted "against the backdrop of substantial efforts by states to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters", she wrote. The court's decision essentially endorses "the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against", Sotomayor wrote.

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

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