Supreme Court could green-light Ohio voter purge

The Supreme Court will consider whether to allow Ohio to reinstate a controversial procedure for cleaning up its voter rolls.

Voting rights groups say it could lead to eligible voters being wrongly purged in the Buckeye State and elsewhere.

At issue in the case is what Ohio calls the “Supplemental Procedure,” in which voters are removed from the rolls if they haven’t voted in any of the last three national elections and don’t respond to a letter asking them to confirm their address.

Last September, a lower court blocked Ohio from carrying out the procedure, leading to around 7,500 eligible Ohioans who had previously been wrongly removed from the rolls to cast ballots in the November election. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court announced it will hear Ohio’s appeal during its next term, which starts in October.

All states take steps to maintain the accuracy of their voter rolls, which tend to be riddled with errors, causing delays and other problems in the voting process.

But voting rights advocates say Ohio’s process is too strict and violates the National Voter Registration Act, which aims to make registration as easy as possible. It could lead somebody who voted for President Barack Obama in 2012, say, but didn’t vote in 2014 or last year and won’t vote in next year’s midterms, to be disenfranchised for the next presidential election if they miss something in the mail.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, has said the procedure is legal and has been used for decades by state officials of both parties. Husted, who is running for governor next year, has frequently tangled with voting rights advocates after backing restrictive voting policies.

A Reuters study conducted last June found that voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods of Ohio’s three biggest cities were removed at twice the rate of voters in Republican-leaning ones. That may be because Republicans turned out at higher rates for the last two midterm elections, and also because poorer people, who lean Democratic, tend to move more.

Because other some other states use similar procedures for removing voters from the rolls, the court’s decision could matter beyond Ohio. Fifteen other states filed a brief in support of Ohio’s appeal, saying their systems could be affected by the court’s ruling.

Many observers expect that the Supreme Court could hear other voting rights cases with potentially even bigger implications. The Texas voter ID case and the North Carolina redistricting case both could give the justices a chance to define the scope of the Voting Rights Act now that its most effective plank, Section 5, has been neutered.


Photo: Ohio Sec. of State Jon Husted

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