Published: Mon, June 11, 2018
Global | By Marsha Munoz

Supreme Court upholds Ohio method of removing names from voter rolls

Supreme Court upholds Ohio method of removing names from 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. If they don't respond and don't vote in the next two general elections, they are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they haven't moved and remain eligible. And in a scathing separate dissent, Justice Sotomayor reminded the Court that it was perverting the entire goal of the motor-voter law by construing it as permissive toward voter purges - particularly those which, like Ohio's, disproportionately affects minority voters, which the same law prohibits.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized the ruling in her dissent today, predicting that it could have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the elderly and minorities.

The Ohio practice at issue in this case, the majority concluded, "follows subsection (d) to the letter": "It is undisputed that Ohio does not remove a registrant on change-of-residence grounds unless the registrant is sent and fails to mail back a return card and then fails to vote for an additional four years". Anyone who doesn't respond or vote within the next four years is deregistered.

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The state argued that the policy was needed to keep voting rolls current, clearing out people who have moved away or died.

The 5-4 opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito, with the four liberal justices dissenting.

Facing those sorts of issues, OH wanted to try to remove people who failed to vote in a six-year period and who failed to return a notice, figuring at that point they had probably moved and the registration was invalid. Currently Congress, the Justice Department, and a big majority of states are under the control of a Republican Party that has all but abandoned any interest in vindicating voting rights. The Ohio system puts voters who sit out just one presidential election and two midterms at risk for removal. The 1993 voter registration act was enacted "against the backdrop of substantial efforts by states to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters", she wrote.

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OH officials were appealing the decision of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had sided with OH resident Larry Harmon, a veteran and computer consultant who was purged from the polls in the state process, and the other two groups.

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 only question before us", Alito made clear, is whether the practice "violates federal law".

A 2016 Reuters analysis found roughly twice the rate of voter purging in Democratic-leaning neighbourhoods in Ohio's three largest counties as in Republican-leaning neighbourhoods.

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