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Published: Thu, January 11, 2018
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Ohio Purging Inactive Voters

Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Ohio Purging Inactive Voters

On Wednesday, the Court will hear oral arguments in his case, which challenges Ohio's practice of "purging" people from its voter rolls for inactivity.

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.

Election law experts argued that a ruling in Ohio's favor would empower Republican-controlled states to carry out more aggressive purges of their own.

A decision upholding Ohio's law would pave the way for more aggressive vote purging efforts in OH and other states, while the law's elimination would "send a strong signal that the federal government and the National Voter Registration Act place important limits on what states can and can't do with their voter rolls", says Dale Ho, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. "What we're talking about is the best tools to implement that goal".

At the Supreme Court, voting cases often split the court's liberal and conservative justices. Trump's Justice Department is also backing OH, a reversal from the Obama administration's position.

The A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), a civil rights front, challenged the policy in court, citing two federal laws that prohibit states from purging voters "by reason of the person's failure to vote".

The nation's highest court on Wednesday weighed the legality of whether Ohio's process for ensuring the accuracy of its voter registration rolls as challengers of the law claimed it casts too broad a net in eliminating hundred of thousands of people from the voter rolls.

The case is the latest episode in a nationwide partisan war over ballot access.

"This is about government trying to choose who should get to vote". Registered voters in OH who do not vote for two years are sent registration confirmation notices.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said that protects against voter fraud.

The Army veteran said after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he came back to his home in the Village of Oak Harbor to find out he'd been kicked off the state's voter rolls.

Joseph Helle was expecting a different sort of reception when he returned home from Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and showed up to vote in his small OH town near Lake Erie, the Associated Press reported December 31.

Sotomayor suggested that OH could use other ways of verifying a change of address, "like the post office or certified mail or motor vehicle change of address yet you're suggesting that using a failure to appear at an election or elections as evidence of moving when people have a right not to vote if they choose". If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters. The Ohio voting rights decision will be one of several voting rights cases heard by the Supreme Court during this term.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke at length about voter disenfranchisement, and noted that the state's policy disproportionately affected marginalized groups. "Seems quite unusual that your office would change its position so dramatically", Sotomayor said. "You have the failure to vote, plus the notification that you need to do something because you haven't voted". The Reuters report notes, "In the state's three largest counties that include Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, voters have been struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods".

In the absence of proof that they're dead or that they've registered to vote somewhere else, what, exactly, is the problem with having the names of people on the voting rolls who haven't voted in some time?

"It really seems like this is the direction that people who want to restrict voting are moving in", said Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project. Rather, a voter is removed well after they fail to return a confirmation notice.

He said a process that used a notice which could not be forwarded and would be returned as undeliverable if sent to a wrong address would satisfy the opponents. As part of the lawsuit, a judge a year ago ordered the state to count 7,515 ballots cast by people whose names had been removed from the voter rolls. He says the state's elections system makes it "easy to vote and hard to cheat".

The plaintiffs suing OH, represented by liberal advocacy group Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union, said that purging has become a powerful tool for voter suppression. Helle, a Democrat, called Ohio's process "archaic" and "terrible policy".

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