U.S. Supreme Court Rules Ohio Can Purge Inactive Voters From Rolls
Jun 12 2018
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who's running as the Republican candidate for governor, issued a statementapplauding the Supreme Court'sdecision for showing "that Ohio was following federal law in maintaining accurate voter rolls".
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.
A sharply divided US Supreme Court on Monday approved the practice by the state of OH of purging infrequent voters from their registration lists - a move civil rights groups claim disproportionately affects minorities and the poor.
In essence, a voter can be purged if he or she sits out two midterms and a presidential election, and fails to respond to the mailer sent by the state.
The decision was 5-4 with the court's more conservative justices in the majority, The New York Times reported, noting that while some other states have similar removal system, none moves as fast as Ohio. "The only question before us", Alito made clear, is whether the practice "violates federal law".
Each state has a process for removing voters believed to have moved from its registration lists. If they don't vote over the next four years or return the notice, officials presume the voter has moved and drop them from voter rolls.
"It is undisputed that OH 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", Alito wrote. 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.
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.
The majority pushed back against Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent, which was joined by Sotomayor and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. But on the other hand, that's the kind of law that was in place for jurisdictions subject to the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Right Acts of 1965 (whereby suspicious changes in voting procedures had to be approved in advance by the Justice Department) until the Supreme Court gutted it in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in 2016 blocked Ohio's policy, ruling that it ran afoul of the 1993 law. In Ohio, the "notify, wait, and purge" process is "triggered" by "a registrant's failure to engage in any "voter activity" for two years".
In other words, a voter doesn't even get on the list of people subject to a purge unless they fail to vote for two consecutive years. "The right to vote is not "use it or lose it", said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States.