February 25, 2018

OH official defends state's voter roll system

13 January 2018, 02:06 | Glen Norman

OH official defends state's voter roll system

Oak Harbor Mayor Joe Helle and Secretary of State Jon Husted spar outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the arguments in Husted v. APRI

In oral arguments Wednesday in the U.S. Supreme Court, Sotomayor and Murphy engaged in a sharp debate over whether OH violates a 1993 federal law when it purges otherwise-eligible residents from the voter rolls if they fail to vote or respond to notices from the county board of elections during a six-year span. On Wednesday, his complaints against Ohio's de-registration system will be heard by the Supreme Court. About 70 percent of the recipients do not respond, he said, but the state sees this as evidence they have moved. "Is Rhode Island supposed to look at the Tasmanian voting records or hospital records?" OH is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that purge infrequent voters from registration lists, according to the plaintiffs who sued OH in 2016.

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

The case has become a proxy for the highly partisan fight over the country's election rules. Lawyers for 17 Republican-led states filed briefs in support of Ohio; California and 11 other Democratic-led states joined in support of the civil rights plaintiffs. But a case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday explores whether some states are aggressively purging voter rolls in a way that disenfranchises thousands of voters.

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. The challengers point to a provision in the federal law that bars states from removing anyone "by reason of the person's failure to vote". Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center argued for the plaintiffs.

Suppose, said Breyer, the state were to send cards that are marked "not forwardable" and eventually the state could delete anything they got back that said "not deliverable" or addressee unknown.

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The chief justice disagreed.

But those challenging the state, led by the AFL-CIO affiliated A. Phillip Randolph Institute, say they're doing so on behalf of Ohioans like Larry Harmon. If they don't return them and fail to vote for four more years, they're removed.

Smith said 20% of people sent back the forms, and the Post Office returned 10% as undeliverable. Noel Francisco, the USA solicitor general, represented the federal government, and Ohio Solicitor General Eric Murphy advocated for the state.

However, Ohio countered that states must maintain accurate records.

"Places like Cleveland have very, very, very long lines of voters trying to vote", she said.

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There is no law against not voting, and there should not be a punishment, say lawyers with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Americans have a right to not vote.

Voter purging practices, which are active in seven states, directly seek to suppress the votes of lower-income, racial minority and homeless voters.

The challengers say officials have far better tools to identify voters who have moved. "We believe that what OH is doing is unlawful under the National Voter Registration Act regardless of the party of secretary of state".

OH has a separate procedure for removing people who file change-of-address forms with the Postal Service. The justice said the case might come down to an "empirical question" about exactly what happens when the notices are mailed. But in its briefs, OH claims it is not using failure to vote as the reason for striking Harmon and thousands of other voters from the rolls. They demanded OH reinstate otherwise eligible voters who were improperly removed from the rolls pursuant to the Supplemental Process or to count provisional ballots cast by such persons.

A decision in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, 16-980, is expected by late June.

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