Supreme Court Backs Ohio's Right to Purge Voting Rolls

Supreme Court upholds Ohio law purging voter rolls

The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday, by a five-to-four margin, that elections officials in OH have the power to purge voter rolls of the names of voters who've missed two straight general elections, if they're notified.

Alito said the objective of the National Voter Registration Act was to increase voter registration and remove ineligible people from the rolls. If it finds voters have moved, they are contacted by voter registration, he said.

The five justices who typically make up the conservative majority on the court backed the decision while the four liberal justices dissented. They have yet to decide two high-profile cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland that could impact future elections involving claims that state or congressional district maps were illegally drawn to favor one party over another, a practice called partisan gerrymandering. "You need something more than just differential stats", Levitt, a former top official in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a telephone interview with TPM.

Alito wrote that an estimated 24 million voter registrations in the United States are either invalid or significantly inaccurate, encompassing about 1 in 8 voters.

"Today's decision is a victory for election integrity, and a defeat for those who use the federal court system to make election law across the country", Husted said. In the majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito wrote Ohio's approach was lawful. "The right to vote is not 'use it or lose it". An appellate court sided with the purged voters, but now the Supreme Court has overturned that ruling.

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. If that person not respond and doesn't vote over the next four years, they are dropped from the registration list. He then explained how Ohio's system-where the purge process is triggered simply by not voting-is not consistent with the statute.

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented, wrote that the court had made a mistake in ignoring "the backdrop of substantial efforts by states to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters".

"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.

While federal law does not allow states to remove citizens from rolls purely for reason of not having voted, the federal government also wants states to have accurate lists of voters.

Alito read the National Voter Registration Act in conjunction with the Help America Vote Act.

Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute is not an easy case. A federal appeals court had blocked the procedure for 2016, letting 7,500 state residents cast ballots even though they'd previously been struck from the rolls. Alito said OH skirts that prohibition by sending voters the postcard, to which they can respond before their registrations are canceled.

The question for the court was whether failing to vote could be the initial trigger leading to removal.