US Supreme Court weighs states' right to purge voter lists

Supreme Court To Decide on Trump-Backed Voting Rights Rule That Could Disenfranchise Thousands of Americans

It mandates states can only remove voters' names from registration rolls if that voter has become ineligible - and specifically prohibits states from removing voters for not voting.

In a case from OH, opponents of the practice called it a violation of a federal law that was meant to increase the ranks of registered voters.

After more than an hour's debate, neither side had a clear majority, largely because Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas - likely to be on Ohio's side - remained silent.

On Wednesday, the Court will hear oral arguments in his case, which challenges Ohio's policy of removing people from its voter rolls for inactivity.

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted noted that the state's policy has been in place since the 1990s under Republican and Democratic secretaries of state.

The Trump administration is supporting OH, saying the Motor Voter law requires states to adequately notify nonvoters before they are purged but doesn't prohibit the use of voting history altogether.

All of the U.S. Supreme Court justices - or at least the seven that spoke on Wednesday - seemed to agree that voting can not be a "use it or lose it" right.

The opponents say federal law prohibits using voting inactivity to trigger purges and that OH purges registered voters who are still eligible to vote.

"We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the correct decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and will ultimately ensure that eligible OH voters may not be stricken from the rolls", she said.

"When I was in the Army, I didn't have time to worry about voting at home or absentee ballots, anything of that sort because I was an airborne infantryman, a parachutist, war fighter", Helle said.

But civil rights groups, ethnic groups, and people with disabilities have joined forces, saying that OH, which has the strictest voter roll laws in the nation, is violating their constitutional right to vote. States can use change-of-address forms filed with the U.S. Postal Service, as well as government tax records, census lists and motor-vehicle department databases, the challengers say. "It has the shortest timeline for removing people for non-voting", Naifeh said. If a voter does not respond to that single mailing and does not vote for the next four years, the voter is automatically removed from the state's voter rolls. If they fail to respond to the notice, and fail to vote for an additional four years, they get removed from the voter rolls. Hundreds of thousands of voters have been removed under the policy, despite the fact that many of them would otherwise be eligible to vote.

Now the DOJ under Sessions will be backing OH in the state's efforts to purge voters from the rolls.




Sotomayor questioned Solicitor General Noel Francisco at length about the switch. "It's quite unusual your office would change its position so dramatically".

But some say tasking the homeland security department with investigating voter fraud could be problematic.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard a dispute in OH about who can stay on an official list of registered votes.

"Seventy percent of people don't return them - that's what the statistics show about the notices in 2011: ten percent were returned as undeliverable, 20 percent were returned, and 1.2 million people just threw them in the circular file", Smith said.

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the laws appeared to permit OH to use its notification process.

Even left-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer appeared sympathetic to the challenges states face in keeping their voter rolls up to date.

Voting-rights activists say the notices only go out after someone doesn't vote, so lack of voting is still the cause of being erased.

"We believe our state is one where we make it easy to vote and hard to cheat". And we urge the Supreme Court to rule against Ohio's aggressive voter purge process.

On Tuesday, a U.S. District Court in New Jersey reversed a 36-year-old court order barring the Republican National Committee from using a voter-ambush technique known as "caging", which its insiders notoriously used to purge Democrats from voter rolls.

In oral arguments, the tension between the practical effect of how OH purges its rolls and the more abstract statutory questions at play was on display.

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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