SCOTUS Hears Voter Purge Case

13 January, 2018, 01:04 | Author: Clint Gray
  • Supreme Court To Decide on Trump-Backed Voting Rights Rule That Could Disenfranchise Thousands of Americans

The NVRA said no voter could be purged in the four years after they register. And from the official transcripts, two critical Justices seemed to be questioning a challenge to the state's policies.

On January 10, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, a case challenging an OH purge process triggered exclusively by a citizen not voting during a single two-year federal election cycle. A ruling from the high court backing OH could embolden states to adopt more aggressive voting procedures.

Several conservative justices, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito, appeared open to Ohio's interpretation of the National Voter Registration Act as attorneys for the state defended its practice of purging hundreds of thousands of people from the rolls.

The court's two most conservative justice, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not speak during the oral argument, while Justice Anthony Kennedy's questions didn't reveal much about his thinking.

Breyer asked Smith whether he had "hard" evidence to support his position that Ohio's process for removing non-voters was overly broad and violated the NVRA.

Prof. Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, says if the court sides with OH, "you'll see more red states making it easier to drop people from the voter registration rolls, and it's going to continue what I call the voting wars between the parties".

Sotomayor wanted Francisco to explain the government's change from supporting challengers when the case was heard in the appeals court, and supporting OH now.

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The high-stakes legal fight surrounding Ohio's voter purge program is at the center of a larger battle over access to the ballot.

January is shaping up to be a big month for Republican vote suppressors-and not in a good way for anyone who believes American politics benefit when more people vote.

Just last week, President Trump dissolved the Presidential Advisory Commission of Election Integrity which he set up after widespread claims of voter fraud loomed over the 2016 presidential election.

At issue is a method OH uses to identify people who have moved and are no longer eligible to vote. Smith claimed that three percent of Americans move counties or state every year and only a small portion of them live in OH, yet the state still purges hundreds of thousands of people. "Well, it makes sense it some cases because when a student graduates from Bowling Green University, I'm sure that the first thing they thought of was not to call the Board of Elections and ask them to remove them from the voter rolls".

The American Civil Liberties Union charges that the state disenfranchises voters by canceling their registrations after they are inactive for six years.

She asked if it's reasonable to use the mailers as a means to purge voters when doing so "results in disenfranchising disproportionately certain cities where large groups of minorities live, where large groups of homeless people live, and across the country, they're the group that votes the least, in large measure because many of them work very long hours", she said.

Sotomayor noted that President Donald Trump's administration had switched sides in the case to support OH, breaking with a position held by previous Republican and Democratic administrations. There's a 24-year history of solicitor generals under presidents of both political parties taking a position contrary to yours, she said.

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The Army veteran said after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, he came back to his home in the Village of Oak Harbor to find out he'd been kicked off the state's voter rolls. With DOJ help, the plaintiffs were able to get the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule against the OH practice a year ago.

Following that decision, a federal district court entered an injunction for the November 2016 presidential election that allowed more than 7,500 OH voters to cast a ballot.

"Seventy percent of people don't return them - that's what the statistics show about the notices in 2011: ten percent were returned as undeliverable, 20 percent were returned, and 1.2 million people just threw them in the circular file", Smith said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the OH procedure would have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities and homeless people and was part of a broader movement that has reduced turnout in parts of the state.

Justice Breyer - what are states supposed to do? Ohio's is the most aggressive of fewer than 10 states that use nonvoting as a trigger for beginning the process of removal from voting rolls. Otherwise state election officials, especially in Republican-governed states where the people in charge are hardly interested in maximizing voting opportunities for habitually Democratic groups in the electorate, will keep finding ways to make the right to vote a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. Isn't your whole argument, he asked, that Ohio's practice violates federal law because it is triggered by the failure to vote?

Twelve other states, including California and NY plus the USA capital Washington, have presented arguments to the Supreme Court seeking to ban the practice.

Ohio's purge policy is the harshest in the nation.

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