Supreme Court Weighs Purge of Ohio Voting Rolls

Supreme Court To Decide on Trump-Backed Voting Rights Rule That Could Disenfranchise Thousands of Americans
Data Integrity and Voting Rights: Will the Supreme Court Protect the Right to Not Vote?
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13 January, 2018

Supreme Court majority may side with OH...

The US Supreme Court on Wednesday weighed the right of American states to strike large numbers of people from their electoral rolls for failing to show up at the polls, a contested practice which critics say unfairly targets poorer, left-leaning voters.

Kennedy followed up by asking whether the state could mail the notice to all voters in OH, rather than just those who hadn't voted over the past two years, to start the process, which Smith said would violate federal law - just in a different way. But the debate at times reflected the justices' - and the country's - deeper feelings about voting rights. There are dozens of other ways that you could verify a change of address, yet you're suggesting that using a failure to appear at an election or elections as evidence of moving when people have a right not to vote if they choose. Under the policy, such registration is deleted if the person goes six years without either voting or contacting state voting officials. "Isn't that enough even to spark an inquiry?" he asked. Further, defendants make a textual argument regarding a sub-section requirement of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, that registrants who have not voted and do not respond to a notice "shall be removed" from the voter list, though that subsection also prohibits removal exclusively for failure to vote. If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are removed from the rolls. A total of 17 GOP-controlled states signed onto a brief supporting Ohio's position, indicating that they would be interested in using a similar list-maintenance procedure if it's found to be constitutional.

The 1993 measure allows people to register to vote at the same time that they apply for or renew a driver's license, or try to obtain public assistance.

According to The Nation, from 2011 to 2016, OH - a state with more than 11 million residents - purged 840,000 voters from its voter rolls for such voting inactivity. The laws prohibit states from removing people from voter rolls "by reason of the person's failure to vote".

"Across the country right now, Americans are watching this case to find out whether or not the court will stand with the sacred right to vote", said Heather McGhee, president of Demos, a public policy organization that's opposed to the way OH maintains its voter rolls.

One of the most common and least visible forms of voter suppression is the removal of eligible voters from the rolls if they haven't voted recently. "That's the reason. What we're talking about are the best tools to implement that reason, to implement that goal", Kennedy said.

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.

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"You have the right not to vote", said Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who directed a volley of critical remarks at Ohio's attorney Eric Murphy. 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. By contrast, the failure-to-vote clause of the NVRA "regulates removals, not notices", according to the brief. But, she continued to prod, is that a "reasonable effort" since the process results in disproportionately disenfranchising minority voters? "That used to be a big problem, voting dead people".

"I was sitting there in the board of elections office crying", Helle said. "You think that if somebody hasn't voted for 20 years, that doesn't raise the inference that the person has moved or died?"

The NVRA doesn't require states to keep that evidence, Murphy responded.

The Trump administration, which supported Ohio's practice, came under fire from the court's liberal wing for its position.

Aside from voters who have moved out of the specific counties, or the state, Husted argues that keeping the voter rolls accurate means being able to keep the names of d3eceased voters from appearing on the voter rolls.

Sotomayor questioned Solicitor General Noel Francisco at length about the switch.

In this context, there are several regulatory and technological innovations that are demonstrably superior to Ohio's supplemental process.

"Do you believe this doesn't have a disproportionate impact on certain groups in society?"


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