Ohio voter purge approved by Supreme Court

Today a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court ruled that Ohio can purge people who haven’t voted in the past two years off their voter rolls.

Under Ohio’s policy, if registered voters miss voting for two years, they are sent registration confirmation notices. If they do not respond and do not vote over the following four years, they are purged from the registration rolls.

Voters purged from registration rolls challenged the policy in the Republican-governed state argued that the practice violated a 1993 federal law enacted to make it easier to register to vote.


“The impact this decision will have in 2018, 2019, and beyond is undeniable, which is why we have to hunker down now to give the Democratic Party the resources to organize and mobilize voters nationwide this year,” said Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who accepted a teaching position at Brown University after claiming the party needs a full-time leader.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in a ruling powered by the five conservative justices allowed Ohio’s contentious policy of purging infrequent voters from registration rolls.

All four liberal justices dissented, and the action was denounced by liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who called it an endorsement of the disenfranchisement of minority and low-income Americans.

The high court overturned a lower court’s ruling that Ohio’s policy violated a 1993 federal law enacted to make it easier to register to vote.

Top Democrats said the decision will encourage Republican voter-suppression efforts that illegally erase voters from registration rolls in ways that disproportionately impact racial minorities and poor people who tend to back Democratic candidates.

With the Supreme Court’s ruling, other GOP states plan to follow Ohio’s lead on voter purges.

Many states over the decades had erected barriers to voting, sometimes targeting black voters. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) among other provisions had forbade removing voters from registration lists for failing to vote.

In a dissenting opinion, Sotomayor said the ruling “ignores the history of voter suppression against which the NVRA was enacted and upholds a program that appears to further the very disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters that Congress set out to eradicate.”

Opponents of the system argue that it violates the federal National Voter Registration Act and Help America Vote Act, which restrict a state from removing someone from the rolls just because the person failed to vote.

Opponents also claim that Ohio’s system is unreasonable, in part because many people who received the return cards simply threw them away without responding — not because they no longer live at the residences, but because they may not have known what the cards were for.

The Court found that Ohio uses failure to send back a notice coupled with the failure to vote, to trigger a person’s removal from the rolls.

Since a person not voting is not the sole basis for removal from the rolls, the Court said, it’s legal under federal law.

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