SCOTUS rules voters can be purged from Ohio rolls if they don’t respond to a notice after missing 1 vote
The Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s efforts to engage in voter suppression in a 5-4 vote, according to The New York Times. The ruling effectively means that if voters miss a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from election officials, they can be kicked off the voting rolls in the state.
Republicans have been pushing for these kinds of rulings and policies for years, citing voter fraud as their main concern while also advocating for decreased early voting access, eliminating same day registration and for other restrictive voter ID laws. Of course, Democrats push back against these arguments, saying that they are no more than a very thinly veiled attempt to suppress the votes of marginalized communities.
According to a brief from the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice, “Ohio is the only state that commences such a process based on the failure to vote in a single federal election cycle… Literally every other state uses a different, and more voter-protective, practice.” Federal law actually prohibits states from removing people from voting rolls because they missed an election, but it does allow for them to send confirmation notices to determine if a person has moved.
In the majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito split the finest of hairs in rendering his opinion to the Court, writing that (Ohio) “simply forbids the use of nonvoting as the sole criterion for removing a registrant, and Ohio does not use it that way.” “Instead,” Alito writes, “Ohio removes registrants only if they have failed to vote and have failed to respond to a notice.”
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer quotes a Senate report, writing, “The purpose of our election process is not to test the fortitude and determination of the voter, but to discern the will of the majority.”
Justice Breyer points to the ludicrousness of linking voter fraud to a response to notices, writing, “Ohio only received back about 60,000 return cards (or 4 percent) which said, in effect: ‘You are right, Ohio. I have, in fact, moved,’” Justice Breyer writes. “In addition, Ohio received back about 235,000 return cards which said, in effect, ‘You are wrong, Ohio, I have not moved.’”
In a separate dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor positioned Ohio’s law in a tradition of an unfortunately American practice, stating that these are “concerted state efforts to prevent minorities from voting and to undermine the efficacy of their votes” that were “an unfortunate feature of our country’s history.”
As Michael P. McDonald, political scientist and director of the United States Elections Project at the University of Florida explained to the New York Times, “States can provide some rationale for sending notice cards to individuals for whatever reason, as long as it’s loosely tied to a change of address, and if voters fail to respond to that card, then basically they can be purged from the rolls… That’s the implication beyond Ohio… I think Republican states are going to embrace this ruling.”