Published: Tue, June 12, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

'Setback for Voting Rights': Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Voter-Purge Process

'Setback for Voting Rights': Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Voter-Purge Process

Georgia and 16 other states filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Ohio.

Under the OH regime, voters who don't vote in a two-year federal election cycle are sent mailers asking that they confirm they still reside where they are registered to vote.

At least a dozen other politically conservative states said they would adopt a similar practice if OH prevailed, as a way of keeping their voter registration lists accurate and up to date.

Alito also responded to a searing dissent offered by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

OH sends a notice to registered voters who fail to cast a ballot over a two-year period.

The state said it only uses the disputed process after first comparing its voter lists with a U.S. Postal Service list of people who have reported a change of address.

The justices, voting 5-4 along ideological lines, said the system was a legitimate effort to identify people who have moved away and didn't illegally penalize people for not voting. They get a mailed notification asking them to confirm their eligibility.

In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court emphasized that subsection (d) of the NVRA specifically allows states to remove a voter who "has failed to respond to a notice" and "has not voted or appeared to vote". If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

Several other states that use the failure to vote as a trigger in efforts to cleanse their registration rolls could be affected by the high court's decision in the OH case, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.

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. And Justice Sotomayer has not pointed to any evidence in the record that OH instituted or has carried out its program with discriminatory intent". In it, she said that friend-of-the-court briefs in the case had shown how the OH system "has disproportionately affected minority, low-income, disabled, and veteran voters".

"The Court errs in ignoring this history and distorting the statutory text ... ultimately sanctioning the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against", she added.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision a "setback for voting rights".

Earlier this year, a judge ruled that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), whose office created the Crosscheck program, could not demand proof of citizenship beyond what is required under federal law before someone is registered to vote. A federal appeals court had blocked the procedure for 2016, letting 7,500 state residents cast ballots even though they'd previously been struck from the rolls. He is running for lieutenant-governor this November on the Republican ticket headed by Mike DeWine, the current attorney general. President Donald Trump's administration also supported Ohio's position.

The case was sparked when OH resident and Navy veteran Larry Harmon went to go vote in 2015, but found he had been purged from the rolls.

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