SCOTUS Hears Case on Purged Ohio Voter Rolls

SCOTUS Hears Case on Purged Ohio Voter Rolls

SCOTUS Hears Case on Purged Ohio Voter Rolls

Justice Stephen Breyer also asked questions that suggested he could side with Ohio.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide on a Trump-backed OH voting rights policy that has disenfranchised thousands of American voters by using lists to purge names of those who vote infrequently.

"It's absolutely voter suppression", Helle, mayor of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and a Democrat in a state run by Republicans, says.

A handful of states use processes similar to the one used in OH, but civil rights groups say the state is particularly aggressive in purging people from the rolls.

The questions to Ohio Solicitor Eric Murphy, primarily from Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, did not appear to make a dent in the support for Ohio's process - or at least for Ohio's ability to choose that process from among many options.

Passed by Congress in 1993, this law and its subsequent amendment in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 prohibit states from snipping people from their voter registration rolls "solely" because they did not vote.

"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. She noted that in OH there are large groups of minorities and homeless people who face obstacles to voting like long lines at the polls. Rather, they argued, the critical factor was whether or not voters responded to the notice sent to them, the absence of a response constituting "the sole proximate cause of removal".

Kennedy followed up by asking whether the state could mail the notice to all voters in OH, rather than just those who hadn't voted over the past two years, to start the process, which Smith said would violate federal law - just in a different way. Algorithms are being developed that couple multiple databases from state records, and could more accurately identify what OH claims they are looking for, residential changes, without accidentally removing eligible voters from the lists. Smith noted that there were plenty of people in the United States who for a variety of reasons might not vote over 20 years.

Ohio, often a bellwether in national elections, has removed thousands of people who don't vote for two years, don't return warning notices, and then don't vote for another four years. The state then cancels the registration of any voter who moves and does not vote or change their registration within four years of receiving the notice.

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The 1993 measure allows people to register to vote at the same time that they apply for or renew a driver's license, or try to obtain public assistance.

But U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco - whose office changed sides in the case after Trump was elected - said OH has a right to streamline "over-inflated" and "bloated" voter registration rolls.

"Seems quite unusual that your office would change its position so dramatically", Sotomayor told U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco. The Department previously supported the challenge to the OH law in a brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, but the Trump administration switched positions to back the state.

While the value of one's vote can be unconstitutionally diminished either by denying it to eligible voters, or by contaminating votes cast with ineligible votes, the Supreme Court needs to recognize that these purposes are not necessarily "dueling" or in conflict.

"There might be surveys about how many people throw everything in the wastebasket", Breyer said. He said he never saw the notice.

As in caging schemes, the Ohio GOP-led by Secretary of State Jon Husted-was preemptively targeting blue voters for removal. Otherwise state election officials, especially in Republican-governed states where the people in charge are hardly interested in maximizing voting opportunities for habitually Democratic groups in the electorate, will keep finding ways to make the right to vote a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. It also contested Ohio's interpretation of the federal laws that permitted voter inactivity as the "trigger" mechanism for maintaining voter rolls. "And an appeals court ruled against us".

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.

At issue in Wednesday's case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, was Ohio's registry maintenance policy.

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