U.S. Supreme Court Backs States’ Voter-Purge Efforts

Frederick Owens
June 11, 2018

Samuel Alito delivered the opinion for the conservative majority in Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute that gave the state of OH - famed for its highly partisan election administration regime - great leeway in designing a purge of voter rolls after narrowly construing some confusing language in the federal motor-voter legislation (officially the National Voter Registration Act of 1993) that was created to expand voter participation.

Reminder: In #Husted, the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions chose to abandon its longstanding position that the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act prohibit techniques like Ohio's voter purge.

In a decision by Justice Samuel Alito, the court emphasized that subsection (d) of the NVRA specifically allows states to remove a voter who "has failed to respond to a notice" and "has not voted or appeared to vote".

The justices are rejecting, by a 5-4 vote on Monday arguments that the practice violates a federal law that was meant to increase the ranks of registered voters.

OH sends a notice to registered voters who fail to cast a ballot over a two-year period.

Republican President Donald Trump's administration backed OH, reversing the stance taken by Democratic former President Barack Obama's administration against the policy. And there was no doubt that OH - which has purged 2 million voters since 2011 on various pretexts - would aggressively pursue whatever avenues the courts allowed for restricting the franchise, which happens to benefit the party that has run Ohio's electoral machinery during this period. Voting-rights challengers said the state's approach was among the strictest in the nation.

"Democracy suffers when laws make it harder for U.S. Citizens to vote". Many states over the decades had erected to voting, sometimes targeting black voters.

Harmon and OH civil rights groups went to court, arguing that Ohio's practice conflicted with two federal voting laws.

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A 2016 Reuters analysis found roughly twice the rate of voter purging in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in Ohio's three largest counties as in Republican-leaning neighborhoods.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision a "setback for voting rights".

The case concerned Larry Harmon, a software engineer and Navy veteran who lives near Akron, Ohio. Justice Sonia Sotomayor criticized the ruling in her dissent today, predicting that it could have a disproportionate effect on the poor, the elderly and minorities.

Partisan fights over ballot access are being fought across the country.

It is the kind of 5-4 decision that shows why it mattered that Mitch McConnell kept Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court so that GOP appointee Neil Gorsuch was able to occupy Antonin Scalia's seat.

NBC News reported that at least a dozen Republican-majority states plan to adopt a roll purge practice similar to Ohio's. He's joined by four conservative colleagues, while all four liberal justices dissented.

Aside from the fact that I'd like to do away with voter registration entirely, none of this strikes me as either unreasonable or likely to change things significantly.

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