Supreme Court could uphold OH voter purge effort


The nine justices are set to hear an hour of arguments in Republican-governed Ohio's appeal of a lower court ruling that found the policy violated a 1993 federal law aimed at making it easier to register to vote.

But U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco - whose office changed sides in the case after Trump was elected - said OH has a right to streamline "over-inflated" and "bloated" voter registration rolls. The law says a state can not remove a voter from the rolls "by reason of the person's failure to vote".

Democrats have accused Republicans of taking steps at the state level, including laws requiring certain types of government-issued identification, meant to suppress the vote of minorities, poor people and others who generally favor Democratic candidates. Most of the states supporting OH have Republican governors or legislatures; most of those opposed are governed by Democrats.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said if the court sides with OH, it could unleash a wave of new state and local laws resulting in unnecessary purging and shrinking of voter rolls.

Signalling support for Ohio's defence of the process, Justice Anthony Kennedy said states are "trying to protect their voter rolls.What we're talking about is the best tools for that goal".

But Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose vote opponents of Ohio's process may need, said states "want to protect the voter roll" by removing people who have died or moved away. Both laws also allow states to send confirmation notices to voters that may have moved.

The court's liberal justices seemed to side with the challengers.

Ohio's policy would have barred more than 7,500 voters from casting a ballot in the November 2016 election had the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not ruled against the state. If the voter doesn't respond to the notices and doesn't vote in the next four years, the state removes them from the rolls.

"What we're seeing is a real moment as to whether or not we're going to be a country that makes voting free, fair and accessible, or are we going to put a bunch of barriers in front of the ballot box", said Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections project at New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud. Though he acknowledged non-voting is not a ideal proxy for change in residence, he suggested Ohio's policy generates useful data for elections officials.

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All three men are named in legal briefs supporting Ohio's purge protocol, as are two other Republicans on the commission, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and U.S. Election Assistance Commissioner Christy McCormick.

Voting rights has become an important theme before the Supreme Court.

Helle, 31, describes himself as a "red-state Democrat" and did not vote for President Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

"When I was in the Army, I didn't have time to worry about voting at home or absentee ballots, anything of that sort because I was an airborne infantryman, a parachutist, war fighter", Helle said.

A decision upholding Ohio's law would pave the way for more aggressive vote purging efforts in OH and other states, while the law's elimination would "send a strong signal that the federal government and the National Voter Registration Act place important limits on what states can and can't do with their voter rolls", says Dale Ho, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project.

Justice Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts asked Smith to suggest more appropriate criteria to remove voters from the rolls.

The case is the latest in a series of battles against some states' efforts to restrict voting rights and combat alleged voter fraud.

"On the other hand, there are 40-plus states that don't do this, and many of them may start to do this for political reasons", Morrison said. The problem, the state said, is that some people move without notifying the post office. In the last USA presidential election, Helle said he did not vote for a presidential candidate. If they do, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered.

"The [Secretary of State] needs to do it more precisely and not this wholesale removing of people who will lose their right to vote", he said. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters. "Under federal law, not voting isn't sufficient to get you purged from the rolls and denied the right to vote".