Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

The Supreme Court May Be Poised to Green-Light Mass Voter Purges

A 2016 Reuters study found at least 144,000 people removed from the rolls in Ohio's three largest counties in recent years A 2016 Reuters study found at least 144,000 people removed from the rolls in Ohio's three largest counties in recent years. ANN THOMPSON WVXU
Carol Daniels | 13 January, 2018, 01:05

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.

"This is a critical case in terms of whether the National Voter Registration Act and other federal laws will continue to serve their objective to safeguard voters from purges", says Brater.

Sotomayor also said people have a "right not to vote".

Justice Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts asked Smith to suggest more appropriate criteria to remove voters from the rolls.

The justices heard arguments in a case from OH, among a handful of states that use voters' inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from election rolls.

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.

TOTENBERG: Inside the Supreme Court chamber, the argument focused on how to interpret various provisions of the federal law, with conservative and Republican-appointed justices appearing to side with the state, the more liberal and Democratic-appointed justices appearing to side with the challengers - and Justice Kennedy the likely deciding vote.

Sotomayor pressed Murphy on the consequences the OH process would have, particularly on poor and minority populations.

Under federal laws enacted in 1993 and 2002, states can not remove voters from registration lists due to their failure to vote.

A federal appeals court panel in Cincinnati split 2-1 a year ago in ruling that Ohio's process is illegal. Sotomayor was the only justice to bring up the policy's impact on groups of voters that tend to vote for Democratic candidates: Reports on Ohio's purges have found that "voters have been struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods". If they do not respond, voters are given an additional four years to cast a ballot.

If a registered voter in OH does not vote in a two-year period, they are sent a notification to verify eligibility by a local election board, and removed from the rolls if they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years.

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He said it might be more appropriate to use of driver's license and post office change-of-address information, non-forwardable mail, and databases that show whether people who have moved to other states. OH says that it's not removing people because they didn't vote; failure to vote merely "triggers" the notice, and it's the failure to return the notice that results in people being removed from the rolls. Further, defendants make a textual argument regarding a sub-section requirement of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, that registrants who have not voted and do not respond to a notice "shall be removed" from the voter list, though that subsection also prohibits removal exclusively for failure to vote. If the voter does not return the notice and does not vote for the next four years, he is removed from the voter lists.

It's a debate over the way the state strikes the name of "inactive" voters from the rolls of citizens registered to vote in the state.

On January 10 th, the US Supreme Court will listen to arguments on Ohio's methods to clear up its voter rolls. Francisco spent much of his time at the lectern parrying a volley of questions from Sotomayor about the federal government's shift in position in this case. "It's quite unusual your office would change its position so dramatically". In 2016, more than 7,500 voters showed up at the polls and found their names missing, forcing them to vote a provisional ballot, OH elections officials said.

Following that decision, a federal district court entered an injunction for the November 2016 presidential election that allowed more than 7,500 OH voters to cast a ballot.

"There might be surveys about how many people throw everything in the wastebasket", Breyer said.

"This process has worked very well in OH under Democratic and Republican administrations". Breyer asked Smith at one point. The justice said the case might come down to an "empirical question" about exactly what happens when the notices are mailed.

The case questions the legality of Ohio's approach to keeping its voter registration rolls up to date.

"We believe our state is one where we make it easy to vote and hard to cheat".

Backed by 17 other mostly Republican states, OH said it is complying with federal law. "And an appeals court ruled against us". Helle, a Democrat, called Ohio's process "archaic" and "terrible policy".

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

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