How Ohio's voter purge practices disproportionately affect minorities

A 2016 Reuters study found at least 144,000 people removed from the rolls in Ohio's three largest counties in recent years

OH had record voter turnout in 2008, and many voters who first registered to vote in that year's presidential race were purged in 2015.

The Justice Department supported the challengers in the early stages of the court fight, but the Trump administration switched sides and argued Wednesday for the state.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in an OH voting law case which pits supporters, who see the law as vital to preserving honest elections, against critics, who have attacked it as illegally disenfranchising thousands of Ohioans. Most of the states supporting OH have Republican governors or legislatures; most of those opposed are governed by Democrats.

Signaling support for Ohio's defense of the process, Justice Anthony Kennedy said states are "trying to protect their voter rolls.What we're talking about are the best tools to implement that reason, to implement that goal".

TOTENBERG: Inside the Supreme Court chamber, the argument focused on how to interpret various provisions of the federal law, with conservative and Republican-appointed justices appearing to side with the state, the more liberal and Democratic-appointed justices appearing to side with the challengers - and Justice Kennedy the likely deciding vote.

Breyer repeatedly pressed the lawyer for opponents of the process, but had no questions for the lawyer representing Ohio.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: In 2016, a federal appeals court ruled that Ohio's voter purge law violates the National Voter Registration Act.

The high court's decision could determine whether or not millions of potential voters can cast their ballots in OH and the other states concerned.

Sotomayor said the policy could further disenfranchise people who find it more hard to vote, including minorities and the homeless. When that registrant has failed to vote for just a two-year period, the voter receives a notice in the mail; if the voter does not respond to the notice or vote in the subsequent four-year period, the voter's name is removed from the registration rolls.

At issue is a method OH uses to identify people who have moved and are no longer eligible to vote.

Murphy argued that failing to vote is not the sole basis for removing voters from Ohio's rolls, and that voters must ignore notices they're sent before they're dropped. If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are purged from the rolls.

But U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco - whose office changed sides in the case after Trump was elected - said OH has a right to streamline "over-inflated" and "bloated" voter registration rolls.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco said they concluded the law is poorly drawn, but there's no way for it to make sense unless states are given some flexibility to manage their lists. It "seems quite unusual that your office would change its position so dramatically", she said sternly. "We don't want them on the voter roll". The Department previously supported the challenge to the OH law in a brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, but the Trump administration switched positions to back the state.

Murphy again emphasized that the state's practice passes muster because "no one is removed exclusively by reason of their failure to vote". "The evidence we have in the record is that most people throw it in the wastebasket", Smith said. He called the process "vastly over broad" and rife with "a lot of false positives".

Breyer later asked Smith whether a state could send out a card, labeled with instructions not to forward, to voters. He later returned to the topic, suggesting that Smith's argument turns on the adequacy of the notice that the state provides to voters, rather than whether someone has shown up to vote.

The case questions the legality of Ohio's approach to keeping its voter registration rolls up to date. 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. He was at the U.S. Supreme Court with a coalition of mostly progressive-leaning groups opposing the two-pronged approach OH has to maintaining its voter rolls. But now that the case is in front of the Supreme Court, the Justice Department has filed papers saying THE OPPOSITE THING.

Lawyers for the organizations that challenged the policy said a particularly aggressive round of purging in 2015 triggered the lawsuit.

Andre Washington, President, Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute: "Voter purges, like Ohio's Supplemental Process, disproportionately affect low income voters and voters of color who face countless barriers to casting their ballot".

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