Supreme Court allows purge of Ohio voter rolls

Oral argument in the Ohio voter purge case brought out protesters in January

Oral argument in the Ohio voter purge case brought out protesters in January

Justice Stephen Breyer issued a dissenting opinion, which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - the other members on the court's liberal wing - joined.

OH aggressively trims its voter rolls by sending notices to people who have not voted in two years.

Under the supplemental process, voters who have not voted in two years are flagged and sent a confirmation notice.

"Combined with the two years of nonvoting before notice is sent, that makes a total of six years of nonvoting before removal", Aliso wrote.

OH contends voters are not purged from registration rolls for not voting but for failing to respond to a notice mailed by the state to them and then not casting a ballot for four more years.

The state said it only uses the disputed process after first comparing its voter lists with a U.S. Postal Service list of people who have reported a change of address. All states update their registers by cutting people who have moved or died, but this case centered on whether missing a few votes was sufficient grounds to drop someone.

"It is undisputed that OH does not remove a registrant on change-of-residence grounds unless the registrant is sent and fails to mail back a return card and then fails to vote for an additional four years", Alito wrote.

Democrats have accused Republicans of taking steps at the state level, including laws requiring certain types of government-issued identification, meant to suppress the vote of minorities, poor people and others who generally favour Democratic candidates. More than half the voters in OH fail to cast a ballot over a two-year period, the group said, and those who receive the state's notices simply throw them away.

The ruling, she argued, "ignores the long history of purge programs in our country which have been used to unfairly and disproportionately target minority voters".

Aside from showing the importance of who does and does not get confirmed for the Supreme Court, the decision illustrates the weakness of federal voting-rights laws. Currently Congress, the Justice Department, and a big majority of states are under the control of a Republican Party that has all but abandoned any interest in vindicating voting rights.

Demos, the voting rights group that challenged Ohio's voter purge law, said in a statement that the decision "threatens the ability of voters to have their voices heard in our elections". In 2016, an appeals court ruled Ohio's process violated the National Voting Rights Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Husted called the decision "a victory for electoral integrity".

Sotomayor, meanwhile, focused on the populations who, according to briefs filed in the case stand to be most likely to be purged under Ohio's system: minority, low-income, disabled, and veteran voters.

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