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Divided US Supreme Court may allow OH voter purge policy

10 January 2018

Tokaji said the law also prohibits states from purging registered voters from the rolls just because they have not voted.

OH says its policy is legal, as voter inactivity is not the proximate process of removal.

The case centers around a man who didn't vote in 2009 or 2011 and couldn't vote in 2015 because his name had been removed from the voter rolls. "Other times I didn't like either of the candidates". Most of the states supporting OH have Republican governors or legislatures; most of those opposed are governed by Democrats.

The case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, is a challenge to Ohio's scheme for purging people who haven't voted recently from the voter rolls, a scheme the state implemented under pressure from conservative legal activists, including one who later joined the Trump voter fraud commission.

Signalling support for Ohio's defence of the process, Justice Anthony Kennedy said states are "trying to protect their voter rolls.What we're talking about is the best tools for that objective".

The justices will hear arguments in Republican-governed Ohio's appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked its policy of erasing from voter registration lists people who do not regularly cast a ballot. Husted appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Voters cast ballots in OH on November 8, 2016.

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OH has a controversial practice of removing voters from the rolls who have not cast ballots in years, and an investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer/USA Today Network found the practice of deleting and tracking voters was not uniform across Ohio's 88 counties.

The case is the latest episode in a nationwide partisan war over ballot access. Republicans have argued that they are trying to promote ballot integrity and prevent voter fraud.

"There are many people, thousands of people, who don't vote in every federal election cycle, even in every presidential election", he said.

The question for the Supreme Court to resolve is whether a failure to vote can be the initial trigger leading to removal.

"As a policy matter", Justice Samuel Alito said, "there are strong arguments on both sides".

The purge policy would have barred Harmon from participating in the presidential election in November 2016. Kennedy's vote often is decisive in voting cases that otherwise split conservative and liberal justices.

A decision upholding Ohio's law would pave the way for more aggressive vote purging efforts in OH and other states, while the law's elimination would "send a strong signal that the federal government and the National Voter Registration Act place important limits on what states can and can't do with their voter rolls", says Dale Ho, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project.

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At least a dozen other states have suggested they will follow Ohio's lead if the state wins.

Larry Harmon, a voter in the state, challenged the process, arguing that he had been removed from the rolls even though he had not moved. The problem, the state said, is that some people move without notifying the post office. The last time he voted, he said, was in 2008. If they do, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered.

He said OH is violating the National Voter Registration Act, which specifies that voters can be purged from the rolls only if they ask, move, are convicted of a felony, become mentally incapacitated, or die. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

Justices Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor tag teamed in grilling Ohio Solicitor General Eric E. Murphy on whether Ohio's procedure discriminates against people who find it hard to vote and those who decide not to vote as a First Amendment issue. "We need a little help from the voter", Husted said. He says that proper voter roll maintenance means more ballots are counted and fewer Ohioans have trouble casting votes.

The Trump administration said the practice complies with federal law because people are not removed from the rolls "by reason of their initial failure to vote". "Under federal law, not voting isn't sufficient to get you purged from the rolls and denied the right to vote".

The Trump administration filed a brief in support of the OH "use it or lose it" voting policy a year ago in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, which will be heard in the nation's top court on Wednesday.

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Divided US Supreme Court may allow OH voter purge policy