High Court Upholds Ohio’s Right to Clean Voter 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. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) among other provisions had forbade removing voters from registration lists for failing to vote.

Under Ohio's procedure, elections officials send a notification to any voter who fails to vote in a two-year period. Groups including the ACLU challenged the practice, but the Supreme Court's five conservative justices sided with Ohio.

"The only question before us is whether it violates federal law". Ohio's process, he claims, "does not strike any registrant exclusively by reason of the failure to vote". That work can not be done less than 90 days before a federal election.

The dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer, which traced the long history of state laws restricting the right to vote, argued that the OH process "erects needless hurdles to voting of the kind Congress sought to eliminate by enacting the Registration Act".

The justices rejected arguments that practices by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted violate a federal law meant to increase the ranks of registered voters. "Instead, as expressly permitted by federal law, it removes registrants only when they have failed to vote and have failed to respond to a change-of-residence notice".

"The Court errs in ignoring this history and distorting the statutory text ... ultimately sanctioning the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against", she added. All four liberal justices dissented, and top Democrats said the decision will boost what they called Republican voter-suppression efforts. "The public trust in the fairness of our elections is badly shaken". Georgia and 16 other states filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Ohio.

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.

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OH said it only uses the process after first comparing its voter lists with U.S. Postal Service lists of changed addresses, but not everyone who moves notifies the post office.

The case was sparked when OH resident and Navy veteran Larry Harmon went to go vote in 2015, but found he had been purged from the rolls. The judge said IN, where 481,000 people have seen their registrations canceled since 2014, must contact voters to give them an opportunity to remain active.

In September 2016, a federal appeals court ruled against OH, saying that 7,515 ballots that had been struck could be cast in the that fall's election. "Registrants who have not responded to a notice and who have not voted in 2 consecutive general elections for Federal office shall be removed from the official list of eligible voters", according to the NVRA, "except that no registrant may be removed exclusively by reason of a failure to vote".

The court of appeals that struck down Ohio's voter purge process answered this question by looking to how OH determined which voters should be eligible for a purge in the first place.

"What matters for present purposes is not whether the Ohio Legislature overestimated the correlation between nonvoting and moving or whether it reached a wise policy judgment about when return cards should be sent", he wrote. "And in doing this, OH simply follows federal law".

The Trump administration defended the OH policy, a reversal from the Obama years, when the Justice Department challenged it in court.