Supreme Court Weighs Purge of Ohio Voting Rolls

Supreme Court To Decide on Trump-Backed Voting Rights Rule That Could Disenfranchise Thousands of Americans

Supreme Court To Decide on Trump-Backed Voting Rights Rule That Could Disenfranchise Thousands of Americans

And states other than OH have used literally dozens of other methods of tracking who moves - from income and property tax forms to license plate databases that require people to notify the DMV of changes in address in OH, for instance, within 10 days of moving. OH had record voter turnout in 2008, and many voters who first registered to vote in that year's presidential race were purged in 2015.

Sotomayor also said people have a "right not to vote".

OH is more aggressive than any other state in purging its voter rolls. A ruling for OH could prompt other states to adopt the practice, which generally pits Democrats against Republicans.

"The reason they're purging them is they want to protect the voter roll", said Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who often casts the deciding vote in close decisions. Today the court's more conservative justices seemed inclined to agree with the state - and could even pick up a sixth vote, from Justice Stephen Breyer.

The questions to Ohio Solicitor Eric Murphy, primarily from Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, did not appear to make a dent in the support for Ohio's process - or at least for Ohio's ability to choose that process from among many options.

The case looks at Ohio's "purge policy", in which the state used maintenance lists to bar people from voting in elections if they had not voted in a two-year period or contacted a state voting agency for a six-year period.

Chief Justice John Roberts challenged the idea that nonvoting was the only factor OH was using, since the state also sent out the confirmation mailers.

The case has taken on added importance because the parties have squared off over ballot access across the country.

"Voters have been struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods", the study found. "Neighborhoods that have a high proportion of poor, African-American residents are hit the hardest".

Helle feels that voters should not be forced to cast ballots for issues or candidates that they do not believe in, just to avoid being unregistered.

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The opponents say a 1992 federal law prohibits using voting inactivity to trigger purges and that OH removes registered voters who are still eligible to cast their ballots.

When Paul Smith, the lawyer for voting rights groups opposing OH, said state election officials' method of sending notices to people who haven't voted "tells you nearly nothing" because 70% are not returned, Breyer shot back, "What are they supposed to do?"

The attorney representing the law's challengers, Paul M. Smith, argued that 70 percent of voters disregard the notices along with other junk mail so the system comes up with many "false positives", unfairly ensnaring many people who haven't moved. It automatically strikes voters from the registry if they don't vote in two consecutive elections and if they fail to return a mailed card confirming their address. If they fail to respond to the notice, and fail to vote for an additional four years, they get removed from the voter rolls.

In its brief to the court, the Solicitor General's office said it switched positions after the change in administrations and reevaluated the statute. It "seems quite unusual that your office would change its position so dramatically", she said sternly. "Literally every other state uses a different, and more voter-protective, practice".

A divided federal appeals court blocked the OH procedure and let about 7,500 state residents cast ballots in 2016, even though they'd previously been struck from the list of eligible voters.

Murphy again emphasized that the state's practice passes muster because "no one is removed exclusively by reason of their failure to vote".

"There might be surveys about how many people throw everything in the wastebasket", Breyer said.

Smith also conceded that OH could act if a nonforwardable notice were returned as undeliverable. He called the process "vastly over broad" and rife with "a lot of false positives". He said he never saw the notice. He is one of more than two million voters removed from Ohio's voter registration lists since 2011 when John Husted became secretary of state. "Under federal law, not voting isn't sufficient to get you purged from the rolls and denied the right to vote".

In oral arguments, the tension between the practical effect of how OH purges its rolls and the more abstract statutory questions at play was on display.

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