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Democrats fret court's Ohio decision could lead more states to purge voter rolls

Democrats say they fear the Supreme Court's decision to allow Ohio's aggressive purge of its voter rolls will lead to...

Posted: Jun 12, 2018 12:16 AM
Updated: Jun 12, 2018 12:16 AM

Democrats say they fear the Supreme Court's decision to allow Ohio's aggressive purge of its voter rolls will lead to similar moves in other states -- potentially keeping people who might be motivated to turn out and vote against President Donald Trump away from the polls.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that Ohio isn't violating federal law with its method of removing names from the state's voter rolls.

Those who are inactive for two years -- which could mean skipping a federal election -- are mailed confirmation notices. Those who ignore the notices or don't update their registration for the next four years are removed.

Democrats and critics of the law say it fits into a national trend of limiting urban, poor and young voters' access to the polls through steps like voter ID laws, limiting early voting hours and locations, consolidating polling places and more.

"President Trump's re-election campaign is completely staked on the success of voter suppression laws like this one," said Jason Kander, the former Missouri secretary of state now leading the group Let America Vote as he weighs a potential 2020 presidential campaign.

Six other states have similar laws: Georgia, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Georgia's is also currently being challenged in court.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted called the ruling "a victory for election integrity."

But Kander pointed to the Justice Department -- which had opposed Ohio's law under former President Barack Obama -- switching sides when Trump took office. Trump has also repeatedly tweeted false conspiracy theories about illegal voting in New Hampshire and California.

"And so absolutely, across the country, Republican elected officials will seek to take advantage of this to bounce people off of the voter rolls who are disproportionately people of color, unemployed people, young people, people with disabilities, and it's also possible for military veterans to get caught up in it too," Kander said.

Ohio Democrats on the ballot in 2018 also criticized the Supreme Court ruling.

"This ruling further shows why we can't afford to pack our federal courts with judges who have a track record of hostility towards Ohioans' most basic right," said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said "Jon Husted's policies do nothing to stop voting fraud, which is virtually non-existent in Ohio as Husted himself has noted, but they do result in disenfranchised voters, along with long lines and confusion on Election Day, when lawfully registered voters show up to the polls and discover they have been purged."

It's hard to predict whether other states will follow Ohio's example in part because most state legislatures have adjourned for the year.

Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said Ohio's move is an ineffective and costly way of identifying inactive voters.

He pointed to a 2016 Reuters analysis that found roughly twice the rate of voter purging in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in the state's largest three counties, saying that "there are real concerns about not just this having an effect on potentially thousands of voters, but there being discriminatory aspects to this law."

"It's such a haphazard way of removing people from the rolls," Ho said, "particularly given what our turnout rates look like in midterm elections, to assume that someone has moved simply because they didn't vote in a two-year period."

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