The Supreme Court backed Ohio’s voter purge policy — which cuts people from voting rolls if they haven’t voted in the last few years. Ohio says the policy keeps voting rolls current, but critics say it disenfranchises minorities and lower-income communities. pic.twitter.com/1UaFQNUMDj— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 11, 2018
In a controversial decision that was split along political bloc lines, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a purge of voters from registration rolls was performed legally by the state of Ohio.
The 5-4 decision will undoubtedly reverberate across the nation as a slew of other states run by conservative governments have already indicated they plan to follow suit.
Every state gets to decide how it removes people from its voter registration records, a process that must be undertaken to account for individuals who move or pass away. Ohio’s method was questioned when it resulted in at least 7,500 individuals being purged from the rolls.
The Buckeye State had determined the best course of action for removing people from registration records was to do so automatically if they didn’t vote for a period of four years and didn’t respond to a postcard mailer indicating they were in danger of being removed. Some plaintiffs in the case indicated they had never actually received that notice from the state.
Justice Samuel Alito authored the majority decision of the Court, indicating that bloc of justices took a strict states’ rights view of the case.
“We have no authority...to decide whether Ohio’s Supplemental Process is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date,” Alito wrote. “The only question before us is whether it violates federal law. It does not.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the dissent, took issue with the process, arguing it was arduous and didn’t prove a need to remove someone from the registration records.
“[M]ore often than not, the State fails to receive anything back from the registrant,” he wrote, “and the fact that the State hears nothing from the registrant essentially proves nothing at all.”
He further found the provision to be unconstitutional.
“[G]iven the importance of voting in a democracy, a State’s effort (because of failure to vote) to remove from a federal election roll those it considers otherwise qualified is unreasonable,” Breyer concluded.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor further pointed out, in her own dissent, the effect the Ohio law may have on minority voters.
"[T]he Supplemental Process [put forth by Ohio] has disproportionately affected minority, low-income, disabled, and veteran voters," she wrote.
Sotomayor elaborated, writing, "low voter turnout rates, language-access problems, mail delivery issues, inflexible work schedules, and transportation issues, among other obstacles, make it more difficult for many minority, low-income, disabled, homeless, and veteran voters to cast a ballot or return a notice, rendering them particularly vulnerable to unwarranted removal under" Ohio's voter purging law.
Nonpartisan voting organizations agreed with Breyer’s dissent.
“The Supreme Court got this one wrong,” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “The right to vote is not 'use it or lose it.'”
Indeed, in states where same-day voter registration isn’t a guarantee — of which Ohio is one — knowing that you’ll be able to vote on Election Day is paramount to ensuring your vote will count. If you voted in the last presidential election, but didn’t vote between then and 2020, and if your mail isn’t always delivered reliably, it could mean your registration, and thus right to vote, could be stripped away from you.
This is unconscionable in the United States in the year 2018. Where justices have ruled justly before, the Supreme Court did indeed rule wrongly on this issue — the right of individuals to vote and select their representatives must be respected, and the onus for removal must be given higher consideration than on a person making sure to check their mailbox every day.
The system for removal from registration rolls should be a trustworthy one, yet Ohio’s system is anything but that. Unfortunately, because of the Court’s ruling on Monday, many other states will likely implement similar measures in the months ahead.
Thumbnail/Banner Credit: Reuters