Voting restrictions upheld by Supreme Court

BY Attorney Jacqueline Hubbard, ASALH President

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organizations filed a lawsuit challenging Ohio’s practice of removing people who vote infrequently from its voting rolls, stating that Ohio’s practice was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

The United States Supreme Court recently upheld, in Husting vs. A. Phillip Randolph Institute (cited at 838 F.3d 699), the State of Ohio’s procedure that removes voters who miss out on the opportunity to vote.  The court now permits the State of Ohio to involuntarily remove people from the eligible voter’s roll if they did not vote in recent elections.

The lawsuit was brought by the ACLU, ACLU of Ohio and on behalf of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and Larry Harmon, an Ohio resident who had been purged from the voter rolls in 2015.

In April of 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted the request for a preliminary injunction, halting Ohio’s purge practice until the November 2016 election. In September 2016, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled against Ohio’s practice as a violation of the NVRA.

Therefore, two lower federal courts ruled against the Ohio practice. However, on June 11, in a five to four ruling, the United States Supreme Court upheld the Ohio voter purge practice and allowed removal of infrequent voters from the registration rolls.

This case considered the steps that states may take to maintain voter- registration rolls.  Federal laws prevent a state from removing “the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote,” but also says a state must remove a voter if the voter does not respond to a confirmation notice sent by the State and does not vote in the next two general federal elections.

Since 1994, as part of its voter list-maintenance program, Ohio had sent voters who lacked voter activity over a two-year period a “confirmation notice.”  If the voter did not respond to that notice and did not vote over the next four years (including two more federal elections), Ohio removed them from the eligible voter’s list. Since the Supreme Court essentially approved this practice, it could be adopted in other states, including Florida.

Thus, inactivity can remove any voter from the eligible voter’s list under the circumstances described. This is another reason to always vote. Don’t take your voting rights for granted. You could be removed as an eligible voter and not know it.

Check with the Supervisor of Elections to make sure you are eligible to vote in the coming elections.

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