Supreme court leans toward OH voter purge - and other states may follow

Thursday, 11 Jan, 2018

[T] here are many democracies that require you to vote, right?

Helle first registered to vote when he turned 18 and even voted once prior to joining the Army, but he did not return home to vote while in the service.

The United States has a generally low voter turnout rate, especially during mid-term elections, when only about 40 percent of eligible OH voters go to the polls, giving more weight to each individual ballot.

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.

Partisan fights over ballot access are being fought across the country.

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.

Senator Sherrod Brown said the purges inevitably take legitimate, legal voters off the rolls.

Andre Washington, president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute in OH, echoed Sotomayor in a statement on Wednesday, arguing that "voter purges, like Ohio's supplemental process, disproportionately affect low income voters and voters of color who face countless barriers to casting their ballot". "To be a veteran, go serve my country for so long, to come home and be told that I can not exercise one of the fundamental rights that I went and defended is ridiculous".

Most news accounts of the oral arguments in the Husted case suggested that Justice Kennedy's friendly questioning of Ohio's attorney and Justice Breyer's clearly expressed sympathy for the state's interest in keeping voter rolls accurate were a sign the Supreme Court was likely to rule against the law's challengers.

Ho says says that Georgia, Montana, Oregon, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma also have a culling process that's triggered by inactivity, but Ohio's two-year trigger is the shortest of any state.

A federal appeals court panel in Cincinnati split 2-1 previous year in ruling that Ohio's process is illegal.

Image voter
Larry Harmon sits in his home in Kent Ohio. Maddie Mc Garvey for NBC News

Harmon, a plaintiff in the case before the high court, had simply chosen not to vote four years in a row - because he was unhappy with the candidates.

The state learns nothing about whether someone actually has moved if a notice is not returned, he said. OH argues this helps ensure election security.

We maintain the position we've long held, that fraud in OH elections is essentially nonexistent. As Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project says at the ACLU's website, "The state assumes that a person who has not voted in two years may have moved across county lines and might need to be removed from the voter rolls".

"This case is about removing people who the state believes have moved out of the district where they vote", said Alan Morrison, a George Washington University law professor.

Helle said he was trying to vote in a special election on a local school levy in August 2011 when poll workers could not find his name and had him cast a provisional ballot.

"I was sitting there in the board of elections office crying", Helle said.

"There are strong arguments on both sides", Alito said, suggesting his decision will come down to interpreting the language of the statute. "Choosing not to vote is as important as choosing to vote". "Other times I didn't like either of the candidates".

At issue is a method OH uses to identify people who have moved and are no longer eligible to vote.

The state argues that it is preventing voter fraud by purging the voter rolls, while opponents say the method takes away people's right to vote. Kennedy often swings a decision that splits the conservative and liberal-leaning justices. "We are fighting in every state to protect and expand the right to vote". As part of their process for maintaining voter rolls, county election officials in OH mail notices to registered voters who have not voted for two years.

At least a dozen other states have suggested they will follow Ohio's lead if the state wins. "And in these cases that they've brought or threatened to bring, they want counties or states to adopt that as a practice". Basically, Ohio voters who don't vote in a two-year period can eventually be removed from registration rolls, depending on certain circumstances. 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.

One of them was Larry Harmon, a US Navy veteran who discovered to his dismay in November 2015 that he had been struck from the electoral roll, despite the fact that he had not moved in 16 years.