Supreme Court appears sympathetic to OH voter roll purge effort

13 January, 2018, 01:05 | Author: Keith Rowe
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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".

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. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear one of the year's biggest voting rights cases over whether a highly partisan GOP voter purge in Ohio-targeting the same blue voters as caging schemes-was legal under the federal law that governs how voter rolls are to be purged (after people die, move or lose their rights-such as from a felony conviction). Francisco contended that the law was trying to strike a balance between increasing voter participation and giving states the flexibility they need to manage issues that arise when you have, quote, "overinflated voter rolls". But the debate at times reflected the justices' - and the country's - deeper feelings about voting rights.

"You have a right not to vote", said Sonia Sotomayor.

Even left-leaning Justice Stephen Breyer appeared sympathetic to the challenges states face in keeping their voter rolls up to date. Under the policy, such registration is deleted if the person goes six years without either voting or contacting state voting officials. However, federal laws such as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) prohibit states from removing voters exclusively for voting inactivity.

Murphy argued that failing to vote is not the sole basis for removing voters from Ohio's rolls, and that voters must ignore notices they're sent before they're dropped. Registration is canceled if there's no response to the notices, no votes are cast during the next four years and the voter's address isn't updated.

By contrast, even a narrow ruling against OH could ward off other states from implementing such extreme systems.

According to The Nation, from 2011 to 2016, OH - a state with more than 11 million residents - purged 840,000 voters from its voter rolls for such voting inactivity.

"You have occasions where you have large quantities of people who are on the voter rolls who don't update themselves, so we have to take proactive measures to try to find those people to find out whether they still want to be registered at that address, and if not hopefully get them registered at the right address", he explained.

Several conservative justices, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito, appeared open to Ohio's interpretation of the National Voter Registration Act as attorneys for the state defended its practice of purging hundreds of thousands of people from the rolls.

He said OH is violating the National Voter Registration Act, which specifies that voters can be purged from the rolls only if they ask, move, are convicted of a felony, become mentally incapacitated, or die. "What we're talking about are the best tools to implement that".

Sotomayor pressed Murphy on the consequences the OH process would have, particularly on poor and minority populations. Anybody with half a brain knows that OH is doing it to make it more hard for poor people to vote, in a move it hopes suppresses turnout for Democratic and third-party candidates.

Smith said failure to vote was hardly a reason to believe someone had moved. If they do not respond and do not vote over the following four years, they are purged. Seventeen states, generally Republican, filed a brief on the other side.

"I thought the Justices asked a great series of questions", Husted said in an interview after the court's hour-long arguments. "All of these impediments result in large numbers of people not voting in certain spots in the state", Sotomayor noted.

One of them was Larry Harmon, a US Navy veteran who discovered to his dismay in November 2015 that he had been struck from the electoral roll, despite the fact that he had not moved in 16 years.

But the simple requirement to keep your registration current isn't unreasonable.

Sotomayor also sharply questioned the Trump administration's decision to reverse the Obama Justice Department's opposition to Ohio's program. So how does the state know to take them off the voting 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 seems quite unusual that your office would change its position so dramatically. OH said he was sent a notice, but he says he didn't get it.


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