SCOTUS Rules on Ohio Voter Purge - Cortney O'Brien


In a 5-4 ruling, with all the liberal justices dissenting, the US Supreme Court today upheld Ohio's right to purge infrequent voters from its lists of approved voters.

The case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, was taken to the high court after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of OH resident Larry Harmon, who'd been removed from the state's registered voters list. But it's possible the number is much greater because Ohio's 88 counties did not uniformly remove voters or report that action. He was joined by his four conservative colleagues in an opinion that drew praise from Republican officials and conservative scholars. Other states begin the purge process after a voter goes an entire four-year cycle without casting a ballot.

The Ohio program follows this to the letter.

OH sends notices to registered voters who have not voted in a two-year period.

For the five justices in the majority - Alito, along with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch - the extent to which Ohio's practice hews to subsection (d) was enough.

The case was initially dismissed by a district court, but an appeals court sent it back to be reconsidered once the Supreme Court made its decision in the OH case, as well for "a more detailed analysis of the First Amendment question".

Kathleen Clyde says she'd do away with the state's practice of purging inactive voters if elected secretary of state in November. In the majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito wrote Ohio's approach was lawful.

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"The right to vote is the most sacred right we have as citizens". If they fail to respond to the warning and do not vote within the next four years, their name will be removed from the voting register.

Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, which led the legal team challenging Ohio's voter-removing practice, cautioned against other states seeing the ruling as green light to engage in similar voter purging efforts.

OH is of particular interest nationally because it is one of the larger swing states in the country with the potential to determine the outcome of presidential elections.

The case arose when U.S. Navy veteran Larry Harmon went to his local polling place in OH to vote in 2015. If voters don't respond and don't vote in the next two general elections, they could be removed from the voter rolls.

Justice Breyer wrote a dissent that, as Justice Alito points out, has lots to do with his disagreement with Congress about the wisdom of reliance on the returning a card, and little to do with the law Congress passed. 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. Even if there were a case or two, that's a tiny fraction of the more than 7,500 OH voters who went to the polls in 2016 and were turned away because they had been purged.

But Alito maintained that OH does not base its decision to remove voters "solely" on their failure to vote but also on the failure to respond to the notice from elections officials.

Justice Sotomayor wrote a separate dissent to complain that the Court's decision will have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the elderly, and minorities. The process is triggered by a failure to vote.