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Victory for Election Integrity or Blow to Democracy?

Ohioans can confirm their voter registration at myohiovote.com. (Steven Depolo/Flickr)
Ohioans can confirm their voter registration at myohiovote.com. (Steven Depolo/Flickr)
June 12, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld Ohio's voter-purge system, which some say means voters need to be especially vigilant about their registration status.

In a 5-4 decision, justices said Ohio's method of using "failure to vote" as a basis for the removal process does not violate the Federal Voting Rights Act.

Secretary of State Jon Husted called it a victory for election integrity, but the executive director of Common Cause Ohio, Catherine Turcer, contends it's a blow to democracy.

"All of us have the right to vote but that doesn't mean that we have the right for that vote to count," she says. "We need to be proactive as voters. We need to confirm that we're registered to vote because decisions like this can have really unintended consequences."

If someone in Ohio fails to vote in a single federal election, the state sends an address-confirmation notice. Removal is triggered if the voter fails to respond and does not vote for another four years. In its ruling, the Supreme Court said it has no authority to determine if the process is an ideal method of maintaining voter rolls, but only to decide if it violates federal law.

Counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice Jonathan Brater, says there are many reasons that voters skip elections.

"Maybe they don't like the candidates, maybe they forget to vote, but they're still very much eligible and very much have the right to vote," he says. "So for people in the category, of which there are many, there's now an additional danger that they'll be removed, show up to vote in 2018 or a subsequent election and then find themselves missing from the rolls."

Brater notes that many other protections still are in place, and says other states should not interpret the ruling as a green light to initiate aggressive purges of the rolls.

"You can't purge people based on the fact that they changed residence without first sending them a notice and then waiting two federal elections before removing them," he adds. "You can't do large, systemic voter purges within 90 days of a federal election; and you have to conduct your purges in a way that is uniform, non-discriminatory and complies with the Voting Rights Act."

Turcer's advice for Ohioans is to confirm their registration at MyOhiovote, and then to always check the paper when casting a ballot.

"If, in fact, you are voting on a touch-screen machine, make sure that you're actually also verifying that the paper actually matches your vote," she stresses. "You can find that a little bit lower than where you're voting."

This collaboration is funded in part by Media in the Public Interest and the George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH