A Victory for Voting Law

Wednesday, 13 Jun, 2018

A sharply divided US Supreme Court on Monday approved the practice by the state of OH of purging infrequent voters from their registration lists - a move civil rights groups claim disproportionately affects minorities and the poor. This is a victory for federalism and the plain reading of the law, notwithstanding howls that this is somehow about purging minority voters.

Alito said the goal of the National Voter Registration Act was to increase voter registration and remove ineligible people from the rolls.

Each state has a process for removing voters believed to have moved from its registration lists. All four liberal justices dissented, and top Democrats said the decision will boost what they called Republican voter-suppression efforts.

In the past, the Justice Department has opposed Ohio's process as inconsistent with federal law. The state sends automatic notices to any registered voter who doesn't cast a vote during a two-year election cycle.

Although he joined the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion expressing his belief that states have broad leeway under the Constitution to set their own voter qualifications.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who is running for lieutenant governor, praised the Supreme Court's ruling in a statement. "We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has upheld a law that could disenfranchise voters in OH and lead to similar laws that could impactmillions of voters across the nation".

It means other states are now likely to follow Ohio's lead, and may even do so in a hurry before the midterm elections.

"This case presents a question of statutory interpretation, not a question of policy", Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority, saying Ohio's practice is not unconstitutional. "Under the Trump administration, it flipped sides to support Ohio's unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote".

Many states over the decades had erected barriers to voting, sometimes targeting black voters.

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The US Supreme Court sided with the OH in a case over whether or not the state has the right to cull voters from registers if they go too long without casting a ballot.

If they do confirm they're eligible to vote, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered.

He continued, "This decision is validation of Ohio's efforts to clean up the voter rolls and now with the blessing nation's highest court, it can serve as a model for other states to use".

The federal Motor Voter Act bars states from canceling registrations for inactivity.

Justice Breyer wrote a dissent that, as Justice Alito points out, has lots to do with his disagreement with Congress about the wisdom of reliance on the returning a card, and little to do with the law Congress passed.

- The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) June 11, 2018 This case is a stark reminder that the Trump administration wants to turn back the clock on voting rights.

Republican President Donald Trump's administration backed OH in the case, reversing a stance taken by Democratic former President Barack Obama's administration against the policy.

OH election officials send notices to anyone who fails to cast a ballot during a two-year period.

The court's four liberal justices dissented from the decision.

Belladona-Carrera says she anxious the ruling will be used by lawmakers in more states to adopt the OH system. Ohio's process, he claims, "does not strike any registrant exclusively by reason of the failure to vote".