Published: Sat, January 13, 2018
Medicine | By Melba Vasquez

Supreme Court debates deletion of names off Ohio's voter rolls

Supreme Court debates deletion of names off Ohio's voter rolls

Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke at length about voter disenfranchisement, and noted that the state's policy disproportionately affected marginalized groups. "Would you say that that violates this Act?" asked Justice Sam Alito, who was Ohio's biggest booster during questioning.

OH officials and civil liberty advocates are in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for a U.S. Supreme Court case that could have implications for how several states update their voter rolls. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesdayin the disputed practice, which generally pits Democrats against Republicans.

Several conservative justices, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito, appeared open to Ohio's interpretation of the National Voter Registration Act as attorneys for the state defended its practice of purging hundreds of thousands of people from the rolls.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, often the pivotal justice in voting cases, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer, usually a reliable liberal vote, sympathized with Ohio's intent.

Justice Samuel Alito was the most vocal of the court's conservative justices, asking several questions about the "sole proximate cause" claim by OH that seemed created to press his colleagues on the court into agreeing that the notification process did not violate the NVRA. He posited the idea of a policy that targets voters for removal if they had not voted in 20 years, as opposed to Ohio's practice of going after voters who have sat out the process for two years, as a case in which failure to vote might be a tool to suss out ineligible voters. Jesse Helms' re-election effort, was re-nominated by President Trump for federal district court judge in the state.

"When I was in the Army, I didn't have time to worry about voting at home or absentee ballots, anything of that sort because I was an airborne infantryman, a parachutist, war fighter", Helle said.

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'It's done to try to be helpful to the voter and helping them update their information and also to make sure that we maintain the voter rolls'.

If a registered voter in OH does not vote in a two-year period, they are sent a notification to verify eligibility by a local election board, and removed from the rolls if they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years. "There are dozens of other ways" for the state to determine whether someone has moved, Sotomayor emphasized, ranging from the U.S. Postal Service to juror and driver changes of address. "It has the shortest timeline for removing people for non-voting", Naifeh said.

OH has a controversial practice of removing voters from the rolls who have not cast ballots in years, and an investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer/USA Today Network found the practice of deleting and tracking voters was not uniform across Ohio's 88 counties. The notice asks that voters confirm their registration by responding to the notice, changing their registration online, or voting in the next four years.

Late previous year, President Donald Trump's administration reversed the government's position on a voter roll case before the U.S. Supreme Court and is now backing Ohio's method for purging voters.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco said they concluded the law is poorly drawn, but there's no way for it to make sense unless states are given some flexibility to manage their lists. "Seems quite unusual that your office would change its position so dramatically", Sotomayor said.

"It's us trying to say to the voter, 'Gee, have you moved?"

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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.

While the value of one's vote can be unconstitutionally diminished either by denying it to eligible voters, or by contaminating votes cast with ineligible votes, the Supreme Court needs to recognize that these purposes are not necessarily "dueling" or in conflict. "The evidence we have in the record is that most people throw it in the wastebasket", Smith said.

Breyer later asked Smith whether a state could send out a card, labeled with instructions not to forward, to voters. The justice said the case might come down to an "empirical question" about exactly what happens when the notices are mailed.

In July, Secretary of State Jon Husted asked the high court to take up the case. "We are fighting in every state to protect and expand the right to vote". He says that proper voter roll maintenance means more ballots are counted and fewer Ohioans have trouble casting votes.

At the U.S. Supreme Court today, the justices heard arguments in an important voting rights case. The system in OH is the most aggressive in the country.

The Trump administration filed a brief in support of the OH "use it or lose it" voting policy a year ago in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, which will be heard in the nation's top court on Wednesday.

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