Voting Rights Groups to U.S. Supreme Court: Ohio’s Method of Purging Voters Is Illegal

September 25, 2017

Washington, D.C. – Ohio is violating federal law by using an individual’s failure to vote in one federal election as a trigger to initiate removal from the voter rolls, write voting rights groups in an amicus brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The League of Women Voters of Ohio, the League of Women Voters of the United States, and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law filed a friend of the court brief in support of the plaintiffs in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. The groups argue that the Buckeye State’s purge process defies voter protections outlined in Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act. The law and Congress’ past precedent on the subject explicitly guards against removing voters based on assumptions that they might have moved without adequate confirmation like Ohio has done, and the state is an outlier in its aggressiveness and lack of clarity in notices to voters.

In Ohio, an individual’s failure to vote over a two-year period, including missing a single federal election, can start a removal process from the voter rolls. The inactive voter is sent an address-confirmation notice, and if they fail to respond or fail to vote over the next four years, they are purged from the voter rolls. The national and state League, and the Brennan Center, say it’s unreasonable and unlawful to infer that a voter moved or is otherwise ineligible to vote from one missed federal election. And the groups say the state doesn’t make it clear voters need to respond to the removal notice, otherwise they risk being kicked off the rolls.

“Ohio voters, like Americans across the country, are guaranteed full protections under federal voting law,” said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “Ohio voters are currently being denied those protections due to the state’s overly aggressive purging of eligible voters who miss an election or two.”

“Thousands of eligible voters were kicked off the voting rolls because the state made a wrong assumption,” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Illegal purges keep people from exercising their most fundamental right in our democracy.”

“Congress made it clear in passing the National Voter Registration Act that it was guarding against processes just like Ohio’s,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The state’s decision to kick voters off the rolls after one missed federal election is an outlier in list-maintenance practices across the country.”

Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Ohio represent APRI in the lawsuit. The U.S. Department of Justice had previously supported APRI’s challenge, but switched its position in early August to support the state.  

To connect with an expert at the League of Women Voters of the United States, contact Sarah Courtney at 202-263-1332 or scourtney@lwv.org. To connect with an expert at the League of Women Voters of Ohio, contact Carrie Davis at 614-469-1505 or cdavis@lwvohio.org. To connect with an expert at the Brennan Center, contact Rebecca Autrey at 646-292-8316 or rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu.

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