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Opinion analysis: Justices rule for OH in voter-registration dispute
13 June 2018, 01:43 | Bernice Figueroa
Today the Supreme Court made it easier for states to kick people off their voter registration rolls. Getty Images
The ACLU took the state to court and had the Sixth Circuit rule that the state's process of cleaning the voter rolls violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which prohibits states from purging names from the voter registration list exclusively because of the failure to vote and requires the state to notify the individual of the potential change in status before rendering him or her inactive.
In a 5-4 decision with the court's conservatives in the majority, the justices overturned a lower court ruling that Ohio's policy violated the National Voter Registration Act, a 1993 federal law that forbids removing voters from registration lists for failing to vote. OH defended its practice by citing a provision of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act that states can remove potential voters from their lists and cancel registrations if they move.
Queen said Kentucky has properly removed almost half a million voters since 2011.
The five justices who typically make up the conservative majority on the court backed the decision while the four liberal justices dissented. "So states may attempt to adopt these practices, but they need to be careful that they're not discriminatory and we will be watching for any discriminatory impact that these practices have".
The Ohio program follows this to the letter.
At least a dozen other politically conservative states said they would adopt a similar practice if OH prevailed, as a way of keeping their voter registration lists accurate and up to date. Justice Samuel Alitowrote the majority opinion.
And, sure enough, the Supreme Court split entirely along party lines in Husted.
In an opinion authored by Justice Alito, the majority held that these federal laws let OH use non-voting as a critical factor in purging voters, as long as it isn't the only factor.
Other states have taken steps to erase duplicate voter registrations without imperiling someone's right to vote. And of course, they're all red states. "This ruling is a setback for voting rights, but it is not a green light to engage in wholesale purges of eligible voters without notice". "Registrants who have not responded to a notice and who have not voted in 2 consecutive general elections for Federal office shall be removed from the official list of eligible voters", according to the NVRA, "except that no registrant may be removed exclusively by reason of a failure to vote". 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. OH does not run afoul of this prohibition because using non-voting to trigger the process is not the same thing as removing voters by reason of not voting.
It also means that the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which was created to encourage greater participation in our democracy, has been significantly weakened.
In the OH system upheld by the high court, voters who miss voting in two years - just one federal election cycle - are sent cards to affirm their residence and registration.
Eligible Ohio voters who have not participated in over two years are targeted by the rule.
The four liberal justices dissented. A federal appeals court had blocked the procedure for 2016, letting 7,500 state residents cast ballots even though they'd previously been struck from the rolls.
But Alito said OH "takes an intermediate approach".
The case came about when Larry Harmon challenged the process arguing that he was removed from the rolls even though he had not moved, but rather had opted not to vote in 2009 and 2010.
The Supreme Court issued a decision today in Husted v. A. Phillip Randolph Institute, a case involving Ohio's voter list maintenance policies.
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