Supreme Court could uphold Ohio voter purge effort

A 2016 Reuters study found at least 144,000 people removed from the rolls in Ohio's three largest counties in recent years

A 2016 Reuters study found at least 144,000 people removed from the rolls in Ohio's three largest counties in recent years. ANN THOMPSON WVXU

It's shocking and shameful that OH would disenfranchise a combat veteran for non-participation while he was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Helle first registered to vote when he turned 18 and even voted once prior to joining the Army, but he did not return home to vote while in the service. Because it laid out the four-year timetable for purges but also said voters could not be removed "by reason of the person's failure to vote". The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesdayin the disputed practice, which generally pits Democrats against Republicans.

When Paul Smith, the lawyer for voting rights groups opposing OH, said state election officials' method of sending notices to people who haven't voted "tells you nearly nothing" because 70% are not returned, Breyer shot back, "What are they supposed to do?"

These pro-caging developments are worrisome enough, but they are not all that is unfolding this week surrounding Republican efforts to purge legal voters.

The problem - according to Paul Smith, who is representing OH civil groups in the case - is that most people simply toss the notice "into the waste basket".

Adding to the mix, the Trump administration reversed the position taken by the Obama administration and is now backing Ohio's method for purging voters.

The case comes as President Donald Trump was forced to dissolve a controversial commission that had been launched to combat what the President claims is a problem of voter fraud, though many election law experts say there is no widespread evidence that such a problem exists.

They argued that a "key tenet" of the NVRA is that voting "is not a use-it-or-lose-it" right and said the notices sent out were based on a voter's failure to vote. OH is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, that erase infrequent voters from registration lists, according to the plaintiffs who sued OH in 2016.

An analysis by Reuters found the policy favors Republicans in the state's largest metropolitan areas by removing voters from the rolls in Democratic leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods. 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".

Two other cases could have a big impact on US elections.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday on whether OH can disqualify voters from casting ballots if they haven't voted over a period of years.

The high court's decision could determine whether or not millions of potential voters can cast their ballots in OH and the other states concerned. OH argues this helps ensure election security.

He said a process that used a notice which could not be forwarded and would be returned as undeliverable if sent to a wrong address would satisfy the opponents.

Conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices were joined by liberal Stephen Breyer on Wednesday in signaling sympathy toward Ohio's policy of purging infrequent voters from registration rolls - a practice critics say disenfranchises thousands of people - in a pivotal voting rights case. His local elections board said it has no record that Helle voted while he was away. But even people whose lack of participation can be attributed to apathy should be allowed to cast a ballot if they're still eligible.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the Supreme Court will be gulled by the GOP's argument that the letter of the law-what they say is a contradiction in the NVRA's voter purge protocols-lets them execute partisan purges.

"People have a right not to vote if they choose", Sotomayor said.

"There's more than one proximate cause in the world", she said. A dozen mainly Democratic states also want the Supreme Court to declare that Ohio's system violates federal law.

Husted has stated that the case is about maintaining the integrity of Ohio's elections, which he has said would be harder if elections officials are unable to properly maintain voter rolls.

A handful of states, including Pennsylvania, use policies similar to Ohio's.

A divided federal appeals court blocked the OH procedure and let about 7,500 state residents cast ballots in 2016, even though they'd previously been struck from the list of eligible voters.

The lead plaintiff in the case is Larry Harmon, a software engineer from the Akron area, who normally votes in presidential election years, but not the midterms. If they do, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered. "We know that's wrong", U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from OH, said at the rally. "To be a veteran, go serve my country for so long, to come home and be told that I can not exercise one of the fundamental rights that I went and defended is ridiculous". They are sent a notice, the administration said in its Supreme Court brief, but only removed if "they fail to respond and fail to vote" in the elections that follow the notice.

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