Published: Mon, June 11, 2018
Global | By Shelia Dennis

Supreme Court Backs Ohio's Right to Purge Voting Rolls

Supreme Court Backs Ohio's Right to Purge Voting Rolls

An Ohio voter and two interest groups said the procedure violates the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, more commonly known as the Motor Voter law.

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state of Ohio Monday - upholding its practice of purging people from registration rolls if they fail to vote. The Supreme Court is allowing OH to clean up its voting rolls by targeting people who haven't cast ballots in a while.

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. The court said Ohio's method did not violate federal law, the central question in the case. He is joined by his four conservative colleagues.

The court's four liberal justices dissented from the decision.

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The case became a proxy for the highly partisan fight over the country's election rules.

The ruling could be a major victory for Republicans, who tend to benefit from lower voter turnout, and a stinging loss for Democrats, who do best in high-turnout elections.

OH contends voters are not purged from registration rolls for not voting but for failing to respond to a notice mailed by the state to them and then not casting a ballot for four more years.

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 haven't moved and remain eligible.

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Rick Hasen, an election law expert at UC-Irvine, told NBC: "You'll see more red states making it easier to drop people from the voter registration rolls".

So the state asks people who haven't voted in two years to confirm their eligibility. The second law, the 2002 Help America Vote Act, directed the states to maintain a system to cull ineligible voters from their lists. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters. "It does not", Justice Alito wrote.

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". The court's decision essentially endorses "the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against", Sotomayor wrote.

OH is perennially a battleground state in presidential elections and has given its electoral votes to the eventual victor in 28 of the last 30 elections. As part of the lawsuit, a judge past year ordered the state to count 7,515 ballots cast by people whose names had been removed from the voter rolls. And there was no doubt that OH - which has purged 2 million voters since 2011 on various pretexts - would aggressively pursue whatever avenues the courts allowed for restricting the franchise, which happens to benefit the party that has run Ohio's electoral machinery during this period.

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Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters, said the Supreme Court "got this one wrong".

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