ELECT Blog Election Law Essays on Current Topics

U.S. Supreme Court Takes on Purging of Voter-Registration Lists

On January 10, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments about the legality of Ohio’s efforts to maintain accurate voter-registration lists.  In Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the 6th Circuit held Ohio’s process to remove voters from the list is illegal.

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 prescribe the steps State may utilize to maintain accurate voter-registration lists.  However, these laws prohibit States from removing “the name of any person from the official list of voters registered in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.”  In Ohio, if a voter did not vote over a two-year period, the State sent the voter a confirmation notice consistent with the federal laws. Then if the voter did not respond to that notice and did not vote over the next four years, Ohio took the next step of removing the voter from the voter registration list.  The Plaintiffs argued this purging violated federal law since the trigger was the voter’s failure to vote; whereas, the state of Ohio argues the trigger is the failure by the voter to respond to the confirmation notice.

By a split vote of 2-1, the three-judge panel held Ohio violated the federal laws ruling the “trigger” is the voter’s failure to vote and not, the confirmation notice.

Similar arguments are being made across the country: Democrats allege Republicans are passing measures which make it more difficult to vote and suppress voters; while Republicans argue these measures enhance voter security and promote ballot integrity.  To further demonstrate this argument, in this case the Trump Administration reversed the previous position taken by the Obama Administration and now supports the Ohio process for purging voters.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June.  Whether the Court reverses the 6th Circuit or not, states will use the decision to alter its practices to maintain its voter registration lists which potentially will have a significant impact on future elections.