Ohio Officials Defend Voter Roll Purges Before US Supreme Court

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".

"We're following the state and federal laws that require us to maintain accurate voter rolls", said Husted.

A handful of states use processes similar to the one used in OH, but civil rights groups say the state is particularly aggressive in purging people from the rolls.

The state of OH claims that these regulations have "dueling purposes" of facilitating access to the ballot, but also ensuring the integrity of the process, which in their view necessitates regularly cleaning and purging voter lists. According to a Reuters analysis, OH has purged at least 144,000 voters in the state's three largest counties-home to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati-since the 2012 election, with voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods twice as likely to be removed as those in Republican-leaning ones. Unfortunately, federal priorities have been confounded by the controversial reversal of the Department of Justice's position on this case.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that "Congress didn't want the failure to vote to be a trigger for this procedure".

Outside the court following the argument, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, defended the state's election system. Kennedy often swings a decision that splits the conservative and liberal-leaning justices.

Smith responded by noting the federal government keeps records of people who died and that when people move they update their address with the state motor vehicle agency and the post office. "That's the reason. What we're talking about are the best tools to implement. that goal". Stuart Naifeh, an attorney for Demos, said OH also eliminated same-day registration for early voting in 2014, which ended an opportunity that voters previously had to correct erroneous removals and cast ballots.

"What should the state do?" he asked.

Opponents said the basic problem with what OH does is that it purges registered voters who are still eligible to vote.

OH denied that is what it does.

The Court will likely reach a decision in the case by the end of June.

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 havent moved and remain eligible.

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What Husted did was purge legally registered voters ahead of the four-year timetable and blame it on an ambiguity in the NVRA's language.

"Nobody is removed exclusively by reason of their failure to vote", Ohio State Solicitor Eric E. Murphy told the justices, adding, "They're removed if they fail to respond to a notice and fail to vote over six years, which is more than the minimum protections".

Francisco said there was a "public context" of confusion about how to interpret this part of the NVRA and that the administration interpreted the Help America Vote Act of 2002 as clearing up that ambiguity in favor of Ohio's policy.

Suppose that in the last two years, you didn't show up to vote.

Larry Harmon sits in his home in Kent, Ohio. If they do not respond and do not vote over the subsequent four years, they are purged. The state sent him a notice in 2011, which he does not remember receiving. And at present, there are 50 million eligible American citizens who are still not registered to vote. In a lot of larger states, like California, Breyer said, it would be prohibitively expensive to send the non-forwardable cards to everyone.

Justice Samuel Alito came to the state's defense.

Murphy at one point noted that failure to vote "cannot be the sole basis for removal" but that "doesn't mean it can't be used" at all. Alito asked, with the emphasis on "solely".

Smith said failure to vote was hardly a reason to believe someone had moved.

"I was sitting there in the board of elections office crying", Helle said. Harmon, for instance, continued to pay property taxes on the same address.

Seventeen other states signed a brief supporting Ohio's case. The veteran says he does not remember receiving the notice, so he did not return it-and thus he was removed from the voter registration lists. But that is not Ohio's process.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not ask any questions at the arguments. "If Ohio or any other state is purging people from the rolls due to their failure to vote, that is a clear violation of federal law, period".

Paul Smith, representing civil rights groups at the Supreme Court, said most people who receive notices from the state never return them.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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