Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Ohio Purging Inactive Voters

Posted January 13, 2018

But his name had been stricken from the voting rolls.

"The reality is that the failure to vote for two years tells you nearly nothing about whether or not anybody has moved", he said.

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

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, had opposed Ohio-style attempts to cleanse their voter rolls on the basis of non-voting. Employing such technologies not only provides a more secure and effective means of protection against voter fraud, to the extent that it exists, they also protect against external hacking and violations of integrity in a way that many current techniques do not.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who usually sides with the liberal justices, seemed notably skeptical of the plaintiffs' arguments that Ohio's program runs afoul federal law; he asked Smith a number of pointed questions.

Sotomayor noted that President Donald Trump's administration had switched sides in the case to support OH, breaking with a position held by previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

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. "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". "The reason they're purging them is they want to protect the voter roll from people that ... have moved and they're voting in the wrong district". Finally, defendants argue that prohibiting Ohio's specific trigger would be an infringement on federalism and the right of states to determine their own triggers within the boundaries of federal law.

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In Ohio, if a registered voters fails to cast a ballot in a federal election for two years, it starts a series of events that culminate with a person's registration being canceled if they fail to vote, re-register, or contact election officials within six years. The election boards will then send out notices to those ineligible to vote.

"Can we get to the essence of this case?" she said to Ohio Solicitor General Eric Murphy, who argued for the state. Challengers say the law has had an outsize impact among minority voters and in the state's urban areas.

That law urges states to clean up voter rolls, but says someone's absence from the polls for a couple of elections can't be the reason they're kicked off.

Helle said he had no idea his name had been dropped and said he mailed in absentee ballots in some years and not others. The last time he voted, he said, was in 2008.

But plaintiffs in the case, who won a victory in a lower court, said Ohio's rule penalizes people who simply choose not to vote by assuming they've moved to a different county or state.

The state "purges registered voters who are still eligible to vote", former and current OH elections officials said in a brief supporting the voters.

The Supreme Court has heard a bevy of voting rights cases since its controversial 2013 decision striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, which had forced mostly Southern states to clear changes in election laws with federal officials.

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"Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and it is much too important to treat as a "use it or lose it" right", lawyer Stuart Naifeh of Demos told Reuters. With DOJ help, the plaintiffs were able to get the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule against the OH practice a year ago.

Murphy was followed by Noel Francisco, the USA solicitor general, arguing on behalf of the federal government in support of Ohio.

But in briefs before the Supreme Court, Ohio notes this process alone would not catch people who move without telling the postal service.

That issue formed the majority of Smith's time at the lectern, with Smith arguing that the state not receiving the notice back tells "nothing" about whether the person moved.

"Suppose the state statute said that if you have not voted for 20 years then we're going to send out the notice". If they do, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered. Justice Alito said that the best interpretation was that the law bars removal of voters exclusively because they fail to vote. "We need a little help from the voter", Husted said.

"You have a right not to vote", said Sonia Sotomayor.

Following that decision, a federal district court entered an injunction for the November 2016 presidential election that allowed more than 7,500 OH voters to cast a ballot.

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At issue in Wednesday's case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, was Ohio's registry maintenance policy.