SCOTUS Upholds Ohio Voter Registration Inactivity Purge Law

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on June 12th, 2018

Washington, D.C., USA: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Monday that an Ohio law that removes voters names from the voter registration list based on voter inactivity is not unconstitutional.

Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute challenged the state’s voter registration maintenance policy, which permits the government to remove individuals from the voter registration list after several years of absence at the polls.

The A. Philip Randolph Institute challenged this law on the grounds that it violated the National Voting Rights Act.

Ohio implemented the challenged law to maintain and update its voter registration lists pursuant to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which forbids states from removing any voter from the list simply for not voting.

Under the Ohio law, voters are sent a notice after two years of not submitting a vote. If the individual replies, then their name is kept on the list. If the individual does not reply and continues not to vote over the next four years, their name is removed from the list with the assumption that the person no longer resides in that district.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito explained that Ohio’s law:

Does not strike any registrant solely by reason of the failure to vote. Instead, as expressly permitted by federal law, it removes registrants only when they have failed to vote and have failed to respond to a change-of residence notice. … Ohio’s process cannot be unreasonable because it uses the change-of-residence evidence that Congress said it could: the failure to send back a notice coupled with the failure to vote for the requisite period. Ohio’s process is accordingly lawful.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented:

The Confirmation Procedure will sometimes help provide confirmation of what the initial identification procedure is supposed to accomplish: finding registrants who have probably moved. But more often than not, the State fails to receive anything back from the registrant, and the fact that the State hears nothing from the registrant essentially proves nothing at all.

Paul Smith, who argued the case in January on behalf of the challengers to Ohio’s law, called the decision “a setback for voting rights nationwide” in a statement.

“Our democracy weakens when states are permitted to take actions that discourage voter participation,” Smith continued. “By constructing obstacles that make voting more difficult, Ohio is sending the wrong message to its citizens.”

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, however, criticized the challenge — and urged other states to take up Ohio’s system.

“Today’s decision is a victory for election integrity, and a defeat for those who use the federal court system to make election law across the country,” Husted, currently running to be Ohio’s next lieutenant governor, said. “This decision is validation of Ohio’s efforts to clean up the voter rolls and now with the blessing nation’s highest court, it can serve as a model for other states to use.”

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