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