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Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

Supreme Court decides case on purging voter registration rolls

Supreme Court decides case on purging voter registration rolls

The U.S. Supreme Court gave states more power to purge their voting databases of people who haven't cast ballots recently, upholding an OH system that could become a model for other Republican-controlled states. By a vote of 5-4, the justices agreed that the practice under question - which cancels the registration of voters who do not go to the polls and who then fail to respond to a notice - does not violate federal laws governing voter registration.

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the OH secretary of state had the right to purge voters from rolls in his state for not having voted in an election for four or more years.

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.

"If states take today's decision as a sign that they can be even more reckless and kick eligible voters off the rolls, we will fight back in the courts, the legislatures and with our community partners across the country", Demos attorney Stuart Naifeh said. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

Five other states also remove voters from their registration lists for failure to vote.

So the state asks people who haven't voted in two years to confirm their eligibility. OH wanted to initiate a purge that sent notices to voters if they missed voting for just two years, arguing that it was the subsequent failure to respond to multiple notices that triggered their removal, not failure to vote.

If they do not respond to the notice or do not vote over the next four years, they are dropped from the registration rolls.

Dale Ho, director of Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the vast majority of other states find ways to make sure voter lists are up to date by using tax records, or returned mail or Department of Motor Vehicles change of address forms to determine whether someone may have moved.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing in dissent, said the 1993 law prohibits removing someone from the voting rolls "by reason of the person's failure to vote".

She argued that the ruling from the conservative justices "entirely ignores the history of voter suppression against which the NVRA was enacted and upholds a program that appears to further the very disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters that Congress set out to eradicate". He concluded that the OH system didn't violate the NVRA's failure-to-vote language since the state also sent the written mailers. It involves a dizzying web of federal legal provisions governing how states may - and, in some cases, must - maintain their voter registration laws.

Republican President Donald Trump's administration backed OH in the case, reversing a stance taken by Democratic former President Barack Obama's administration against the policy. And there was no doubt that OH - which has purged 2 million voters since 2011 on various pretexts - would aggressively pursue whatever avenues the courts allowed for restricting the franchise, which happens to benefit the party that has run Ohio's electoral machinery during this period.

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