Thursday, 21 June, 2018

Supreme Court Upholds Ohio's Purge of Voting Rolls

Oral argument in the Ohio voter purge case brought out protesters in January Oral argument in the Ohio voter purge case brought out protesters in January
Sammy Stanley | 11 June, 2018, 23:50

Harmon learned that, although he had lived in the same place for more than 16 years, he had been removed from the voter rolls because he had not voted in 2009 and 2010; he also had not responded - because he said he didn't remember receiving it - to a notice that the state elections board had sent him in 2011 to confirm his eligibility. Samuel Alito delivered the opinion for the conservative majority in Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute that gave the state of OH - famed for its highly partisan election administration regime - great leeway in designing a purge of voter rolls after narrowly construing some confusing language in the federal motor-voter legislation (officially the National Voter Registration Act of 1993) that was created to expand voter participation.

In delivering the opinion of the court, Justice Samuel Alito said the law does not violate that clause or any other provision of the NRVA. "It does not." The court's four more liberal justices dissented. A week before, voting-rights activists secured a victory in Arizona with a settlement in a lawsuit challenging the state's proof-of-citizenship voter-registration requirement. Republicans are calling for stepped-up efforts to prevent voter fraud, while Democrats say that push is a thinly veiled campaign to stop liberals and minorities from casting ballots.

The case became a proxy for the highly partisan fight over the country's election rules. "In my view, Ohio's program does just that". Congress indicated that states can remove voters "who have not responded to a notice and who have not voted in 2 consecutive" federal elections, but it added that "no registrant may be removed exclusively by reason of a failure to vote".

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A decision upholding Ohio's law will pave the way for more aggressive vote-purging efforts in OH and other states, said Dale Ho, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project. All states update their registers by cutting people who have moved or died, but this case centered on whether missing a few votes was sufficient grounds to drop someone. The court's decision essentially endorses "the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against", Sotomayor wrote.

In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the 1993 law prohibits removing someone from voting rolls "by reason of the person's failure to vote". In any case, I'm sticking with my original view: the OH law pushes right to the edge of what's legal under federal law, but it doesn't go beyond. He is running for lieutenant-governor this November on the Republican ticket headed by Mike DeWine, the current attorney general. 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. A three-judge panel on that court had ruled 2-1 that Ohio's practice was illegal.

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