U.S. Supreme Court allows OH and other state voter purges

Jun 12, 2018, 02:48
U.S. Supreme Court allows OH and other state voter purges

Opponents of Ohio's voter purge practice said federal law prohibits citizens from being penalized just for the failure to vote. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said that "today's decision empowers OH to further strip away the right to vote for thousands of Ohioans, threatening the integrity of our state's election process".

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.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled OH could continue to remove individuals from voter rolls if they had not voted in two federal elections and have not responded to a confirmation notice or update their registration. If the notice is ignored and the voter fails to update a registration over the next four years, the registration is canceled. Today, in a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Alito, the high court recognized that indeed OH had a very fair process for removing names that was not based exclusively on voter inactivity.

After the last presidential election, the department switched sides in the case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, No. 16-980.

The state said the policy was needed to keep voting rolls current, removing people who have moved away or died. In any case, I'm sticking with my original view: the OH law pushes right to the edge of what's legal under federal law, but it doesn't go beyond.

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.

And thus Ohio's program for maintaining voter rolls is legal. If the statute explicitly articulates that states should purge voters who are caught up in a "notify, wait, and purge" regime, why would the statute also include the words "except that no registrant may be removed exclusively by reason of a failure to vote" in the very same sentence that calls for such purges unless these words were meant to limit the scope of the purges?

Under federal laws enacted in 1993 and 2002, states can not remove voters from registration lists due to their failure to vote. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) clashed with the American Civil Liberties Union when he took steps to cancel the registrations of 591,000 voters who had not been in contact with the state since September 2014.

"There is no plausible reason why Congress would enact the provision that respondents envision", Alito wrote.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed the Supreme Court's decision regarding voter registration Monday; saying the ruling advances the Trump administration's agenda of "disenfranchising" Americans across the country.

Under Ohio rules, registered voters who fail to vote in a two-year period are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they haven't moved and remain eligible.

The dissenters included Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 2016 said no, which restored the votes of 7,515 Ohioans. In Ohio, the "notify, wait, and purge" process is "triggered" by "a registrant's failure to engage in any "voter activity" for two years".

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

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