Voter-purge efforts get support at U.S. high court session

GettyImages-621791576

GettyImages-621791576

The Supreme Court has heard a bevy of voting rights cases since its controversial 2013 decision striking down a key section of the Voting Rights Act, which had forced mostly Southern states to clear changes in election laws with federal officials. But not everyone who moves notifies the post office, the state said.

"What are they supposed to do?" he asked.

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. She also questioned why the Department of Justice, which argued for 10 minutes in support of OH, switched positions in the litigation.

The case is the latest episode in a nationwide partisan war over ballot access. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who tend to vote for Democrats.

OH has used voters' inactivity to trigger the removal process since 1994, although groups representing voters did not sue the Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, until 2016. Rules in Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania are among those that could be affected by the case. OH had record voter turnout in 2008, and many voters who first registered to vote in that year's presidential race were purged in 2015. The state says it removes names only after local election boards send notices and there's no subsequent voting activity for the next four years. The process has been in place for more than 20 years and has been administered the same way by both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state, says Husted. "We are fighting in every state to protect and expand the right to vote".

"Your vote is your voice", the ACLU's Jennifer Bellamy said at a rally in the Court's marble plaza.

"Why? Because I didn't think any of them were going to serve my community in the way that it needed", he said.

Under Ohio rules, registered voters who fail to vote in a two-year period are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they haven't moved and remain eligible. A dozen mainly Democratic states also want the Supreme Court to declare that Ohio's system violates federal law.

Helle, now the mayor of Oak Harbor, Ohio, is among thousands of state residents with tales of being removed from Ohio's rolls because they didn't vote in some elections.

"My goal has always been to make OH a place where it's easy to vote and hard to cheat", he said. "All of these impediments result in large numbers of people not voting in certain spots in the state".

"You have a right not to vote", said Sonia Sotomayor. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to count those votes. "What we're talking about are the best tools to implement that goal".

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.

OH has a separate procedure for removing people who file change-of-address forms with the Postal Service.

"Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and it is much too important to treat as a "use it or lose it" right", said Stuart Naifeh, a voting rights lawyer with liberal advocacy group Demos, which is representing plaintiffs challenging Ohio's policy along with the American Civil Liberties Union. The justice said the case might come down to an "empirical question" about exactly what happens when the notices are mailed.

"There's more than one proximate cause in the world", she said. "I confess to doing that sometimes".

A divided federal appeals court blocked the OH procedure and let about 7,500 state residents cast ballots in 2016, even though they'd previously been struck from the list of eligible voters.

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