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Press Release

Supreme Court Rules Ohio’s Controversial System for Purging Voters is Legal

The decision goes against voting rights groups who had argued that the state ignored protections for voters outlined under federal law.

June 11, 2018

New York, N.Y. – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5–4 decision that Ohio’s process for remov­ing indi­vidu­als from voter rolls in the state is legal, going against voting rights groups who had argued that the state ignored protec­tions for voters outlined under federal law.  

The League of Women Voters of the United States, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law previ­ously filed a friend of the court brief in the case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Insti­tute (APRI). The groups argued that the state’s purge process, which could be initi­ated after a voter missed a single federal elec­tion, viol­ated the National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act. Demos, the Amer­ican Civil Liber­ties Union, and the ACLU of Ohio repres­ent APRI in the lawsuit.

“While this is disap­point­ing, Ohio is one of only a few states that used fail­ure to vote as a trig­ger for kick­ing someone off the rolls,” said Myrna Pérez, Director of the Voting Rights and Elec­tions Project at the Bren­nan Center. “Our worry is that other states will take this decision as a green light to imple­ment more aggress­ive voter purges as the 2018 elec­tions loom.”

“The Supreme Court got this one wrong. The right to vote is not 'use it or lose it,'” said Chris Carson, pres­id­ent of the League of Women Voters of the United States. "The public trust in the fair­ness of our elec­tions is badly shaken. This decision will fuel the fire of voter suppress­ors across the coun­try who want to make sure their chosen candid­ates win reelec­tion — no matter what the voters say."

“Not only did Ohio voters not find justice today, but the high court has opened up the oppor­tun­ity for extreme voter purging in other states across the coun­try,” said Jen Miller, exec­ut­ive director the League of Women Voters of Ohio. "Today’s decision further limits the National Voter Regis­tra­tion Act with an unre­li­able and unreas­on­able flag that carries a big impact for Ohio voters."

Under the chal­lenged prac­tice, if someone in Ohio fails to vote in a single federal elec­tion, they must be sent a forward­able address-confirm­a­tion notice. If there is no response, and the voter does not have any elec­tion-related activ­ity for two federal elec­tions, the state could then remove them from the voter rolls. The Bren­nan Center and other crit­ics of the process argue that it’s unreas­on­able to infer from one missed federal elec­tion that a voter has moved or is other­wise ineligible to vote.

The Supreme Court case is one example of the fights now happen­ing across the coun­try against unfair voter purge prac­tices. Irre­spons­ible purges could be a big threat facing voters in Novem­ber’s midterm elec­tions. In Indi­ana, the League of Women Voters and the Bren­nan Center, along with the Indi­ana NAACP, success­fully chal­lenged an unlaw­ful purge prac­tice based on the use of Crosscheck, a data­base match­ing system spear­headed by Kansas Secret­ary of State Kobach. In the months ahead, the Bren­nan Center will be produ­cing more research on purges — to stay abreast of these and other issues, click here.

For more inform­a­tion or to connect with an expert from the Bren­nan Center about the case, contact Rebecca Autrey at Rebecca.Autrey@nyu.edu or 646–292–8316.

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