Two advocacy organizations, Common Cause and Why Courts Matter, staged a rally at the U.S. Supreme Court to raise awareness about how voter roll purges contribute to voter suppression. The day of the rally, January 10, the Supreme Court will begin oral arguments on Husted v. A Philip Randolph Institute, a case that will have major implications for voting rights nationwide.
The lawsuit will determine whether or not Ohio’s policy of purging voter registration rolls based on inactivity is constitutional. Currently, the state begins the process to boot eligible voters from its system if they failed to participate in an election after two years. Prior to the purge, the state sends delinquent voters a mailer to verify their information after missing an election. If the voter doesn’t reply and doesn’t cast a ballot for another two years then they’re no longer considered a registered voter in Ohio.
According to a press release from Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, since he took office, 1.6 million voters who were registered more than once were removed from the rolls, as were 532,000 deceased Ohioans. Supporters of the voter purges say that they keep voter rolls accurate and up-to-date and that it’s the voter’s responsibility to uphold their registration.
Critics say it’s not fair to penalize people for not voting consistently by taking away their ability to vote in the future. In 2016, Ohio state rep Kathleen Clyde said that more than 2 million people had been affected by the policy and were unaware. It also appears the rule is enforced more harshly in left-leaning neighborhoods than conservative ones based on a Reuters survey of voter lists from 2016. Opponents also argue that minorities and other people of color are more likely to be affected by purges.
The suit against Husted claims that state violated the National Voter Registration Act, which made it easier for people on public assistance or with disabilities to register to vote. It also states that voters can’t be deregistered for not participating in elections.
What you can do:
If the Supreme Court sides in favor of Husted and Ohio, other states could implement “use it or lose it” voter roll purge policies. Voters will have to be ever more vigilant to show up to the polls especially if they’re casting an absentee ballot.
If you’re in D.C., join Common Cause and Why Courts Matter for the Voting Rights Rally at the SCOTUS building. You can also support their mission of ensuring equitable voter rights for all by making a donation to their organizations.
Also, you can take action by supporting the ACLU’s efforts to end voter suppression, including purges of voter rolls, reducing early access voting and voter ID laws.
And then some:
Ohio’s not the only state dealing with voter roll purges. Florida and Indiana have also come under fire for their voter purge policies. In 2000, Florida-- a state with a lifetime voting ban for ex-offenders-- screwed up their voter purge by accidentally removing thousands of legitimate voters that were mistaken for felons. Also, in 2012, Florida tried to implement another purge which would have eliminated non-citizens from the voter polls, but the states methodology was once again highly inaccurate.
In the midwest, Indiana is currently embroiled in a lawsuit concerning their voter roll purge. The case in Indiana bares a striking resemblance to the one in Ohio. Critics have accused the purge as unfairly targeting minorities. The SCOTUS decision on Husted v. A Philip Randolph Institute will have a major impact on this case in Indiana.