US top court backs OH voter purge; Democrats blast ruling

Sotomayor dissent tackles impact of Ohio ruling on minority voters

The court ruled 5 to 4 that Ohio's process does not violate federal law.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, said OH officials were not violating federal law with their purge policy (which, according to a federal appeals court, has resulted in 7,500 OH voters being wrongly purged).

Ohio's rules, which use voter inactivity to trigger a process that can lead to their removal from the voter rolls, are similar to those of states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Georgia.

It also means that the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which was created to encourage greater participation in our democracy, has been significantly weakened.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by the other liberal justices, said, "Using a registrant's failure to vote is not a reasonable method for identifying voters whose registrations are likely invalid".

"On the one hand dramatically increasing the number of voters on the voter rolls but, on the other, giving states the flexibility they need to manage the issues that arise when you have over-inflated voter rolls", the Trump administration lawyer Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in a court brief. "This is a voter suppression campaign run out of the White House by President Trump, who has actively worked to undermine faith in American democracy". Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

Failure to cast a ballot for two years triggers Ohio's removal process. Rather, it "removes registrants only when they have failed to vote and have failed to respond to a change-of-residence notice".

In other words, a voter doesn't even get on the list of people subject to a purge unless they fail to vote for two consecutive years.

Husted concerns a process OH uses to identify voters who may have changed addresses, and to purge them from the voter rolls.

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The state said the policy was needed to keep voting rolls current, removing people who have moved away or died.

OH has sent more than 3 million notices of address confirmation since 2011, when Husted became Secretary of State.

The Ohio program follows this to the letter.
In it, she said that friend-of-the-court briefs in the case had shown how the OH system "has disproportionately affected minority, low-income, disabled, and veteran voters".

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 Court errs in ignoring this history and distorting the statutory text ... ultimately sanctioning the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against", she added.

In September 2016, a federal appeals court ruled against OH, saying that 7,515 ballots that had been struck could be cast in the that fall's election.

Republican President Donald Trump's administration backed OH, reversing the stance taken by Democratic former President Barack Obama's administration against the policy, and welcomed the ruling.

The case was sparked when OH resident and Navy veteran Larry Harmon went to go vote in 2015, but found he had been purged from the rolls.

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