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Voter purge case to be heard by Supreme Court

by Rob Tyson

The United States Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Ohio’s policy of removing voters from the voter registration rolls.  In Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court ruling denying the Plaintiffs’ request for an injunction to reinstate the removed voters or allow the voters to vote by provisional ballot.  The State of Ohio has appealed.

Ohio developed a Supplemental Process to purge voters who had not voted in recent elections. Ohio officials argued removing inactive voters assisted in maintaining current and accurate voter registration records.

Essentially, the Supplemental Process implemented a six-year system to purge registered voters.  If a registered voter doesn’t vote during a two-year period, the voter receives a confirmation notice from the state. If the registered voter doesn’t respond to the notice and does not vote over the following four years, the voter is removed from the voter registration records.

The Plaintiffs claimed Ohio’s process violated the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act.  The Plaintiffs argue Ohio’s policy illegally removed persons from the voter registration rolls which disenfranchises minorities and poor people.

The Sixth Circuit agreed with the Plaintiffs that the Ohio policy violated the National Voter Registration Act, which prohibits striking registered voters due to the person’s failure to vote and establishes a process to remove voters who leave the state. However, the opinion recognized the dilemma states often are placed – conflicting requirements to maintain an updated voter registration list while also running the risk of being sued when it creates a process to purge its voter registration lists.

Potential Impact:  If the Supreme Court upholds Ohio’s policy, the Court potentially could arm states with more freedom to eliminate inactive voters.  By taking the case, the Supreme Court continues its recent willingness to deal with the significantly political issue of voting rights. The Supreme Court recently threw out two North Carolina congressional districts holding they were an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.  Also, in its next term the Supreme Court is expected to hear partisan gerrymandering cases.  Stay tuned for a plethora of voting right decisions.