Supreme Court to look at Ohio's voter-removal laws

Former Army Sgt. Joseph Helle says he was removed from Ohio's voter rolls without notification while he was serving overseas

An attorney for OH faced tough questions Wednesday at the U.S. Supreme Court where challengers say the state's method of purging its voter rolls reduces turnout and hurts minorities in particular.

The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a case from Ohio.

"I'm not one of these people that flaunts their military service, by any means, but to be told I couldn't do one of the fundamental rights I went off and served this country for was just appalling", Helle said, recounting his reaction after being dropped from voter registration rolls.

But the court's conservatives and possibly also Justice Stephen Breyer indicated that they would uphold the state's effort.

Critics say OH is punishing people for not voting by taking them off the voter rolls.

If the court decides that OH can no longer purge its voter rolls in this way, at least six other states may have to change their practices.

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".

At the Supreme Court, voting cases often split the court's liberal and conservative justices.

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

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

At Wednesday's argument, the justices debated whether two federal laws allowed OH to cull its voting rolls based on failing to vote.

The case is the latest episode in a nationwide partisan war over ballot access.

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We encourage people to vote in every election, to be participants in our republic.

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. As part of the lawsuit, a judge a year ago ordered the state to count 7,515 ballots cast by people whose names had been removed from the voter rolls. But not everyone who moves notifies the post office, the state said.

So the state asks people who haven't voted in two years to confirm their eligibility. Registration is canceled if there's no response to the notices, no votes are cast during the next four years and the voter's address isn't updated. If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

Trump's administration has backed the state of OH, taking a stance diametrically opposed to that of former president Barack Obama.

Sotomayor questioned Solicitor General Noel Francisco at length about the switch. But according to the League of Women Voters, "no other state. has a practice as ham-handed and draconian as Ohio's".

The Supreme Court is diving into state efforts to pare their voting rolls by targeting people who haven't voted in a while. "The evidence we have in the record is that most people throw it in the wastebasket", Smith said. The state sends notices to those who fail to cast a ballot during a two-year period.

He said a process that used a notice which could not be forwarded and would be returned as undeliverable if sent to a wrong address would satisfy the opponents.

"Your argument really turns on the adequacy of the notice", Roberts said.

OH is more aggressive than any other state in purging its voter rolls.

"We believe our state is one where we make it easy to vote and hard to cheat".

Paul Smith, an attorney for the Campaign Legal Center, seized on this point in his argument, saying the notice can not be found to insulate Ohio's law because the notice comes from a voter's failure to cast a ballot. Helle, a Democrat, called Ohio's process "archaic" and "terrible policy".

Daniel Tokaji, one of the attorneys for the plaintiff, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, argued that Ohio's purge policies are unconstitutional and violate the National Voting Rights Act.


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