SCOTUS Rules on Ohio Voter Purge - Cortney O'Brien

Supreme Court upholds Ohio law purging voter rolls

The ruling revives the battleground state's process for managing its voter rolls after an appeals court invalidated it in 2016.

Under Ohio law, people who skip voting in two consecutive elections and then ignore various mailings from the state are removed from registration rolls, reports the Columbus Dispatch.

The dissenters included Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan.

The state said it only uses the disputed process after first comparing its voter lists with a US postal service list of people who have reported a change of address.

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. This term, it faces cases from Wisconsin and Maryland challenging what opponents claim were election maps drawn by state legislators for purely partisan gain.

Critics argued that the "use it or lose it policy", violated the Failure-to-Vote Clause of the NVRA by using a person's failure to vote twice over: once as the trigger for sending a notice that must be returned and again as one of the two requirements for removal. "And Justice Sotomayer has not pointed to any evidence in the record that OH instituted or has carried out its program with discriminatory intent".

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All states are required to periodically comb the voter rolls for people who may have moved to another state - a process known as list maintenance. Registration is canceled if there's no response to the notices, no votes are cast during the next four years and the voter's address isn't updated.

Civil rights groups said the court should be focused on making it easier for people to vote, not allowing states to put up roadblocks to casting ballots. "The only question before us", Alito made clear, is whether the practice "violates federal law".

This presented a problem for OH because the state utilizes one of the strictest removal methods in the country, according to NBC News.

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. As part of the lawsuit, a judge previous year ordered the state to count 7,515 ballots cast by people whose names had been removed from the voter rolls.

And thus Ohio's program for maintaining voter rolls is legal.

"Communities that are disproportionately affected by unnecessarily harsh registration laws should not tolerate efforts to marginalize their influence in the political process, nor should allies who recognize blatant unfairness stand idly by", added Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. A three-judge panel on that court had ruled 2-1 that Ohio's practice was illegal.

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