U.S. re­verses po­si­tion, now backs Ohio’s method for purg­ing vot­ers

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By An­drew Welsh-Hug­gins

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­versed the gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion on a voter roll case be­fore the U.S. Supreme Court and is now back­ing Ohio’s method for purg­ing vot­ers.

Ohio’s sys­tem for re­mov­ing in­ac­tive vot­ers from the rolls does not vi­o­late the Na­tional Voter Regis­tra­tion Act, the Jus­tice De­part­ment said Mon­day.

The gov­ern­ment’s fil­ing said it re­con­sid­ered its posi- tion fol­low­ing the change in ad­min­is­tra­tions. The Jus­tice De­part­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Ohio’s method was pro­hib­ited.

Ohio’s process in­volves a three-part test that starts with vot­ers who haven’t cast bal­lots in two years, then fail to re­spond to a no­tice try­ing to ver­ify their ad­dress, and then fail to vote for an ad­di­tional pe­riod of two fed­eral elec­tions.

As a re­sult, the Jus­tice De­part­ment said, “Regis- trants who are re­moved in part be­cause they failed to re­spond to an ad­dress-ver­ifi- cation no­tice are not re­moved solely for non­vot­ing.”

The Supreme Court said in May it would hear the case.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment’s fil­ing is sup­ported by the text, con­text and his­tory of the Na­tional Voter Reg­is­tra- tion Act, said agency spokes- woman Lau­ren Ehrsam.

“The ques­tion is what states are al­lowed to do in or­der to main­tain their voter regis­tra­tion records — not what they are re­quired to do,” she said Tues­day. “A rul­ing in Ohio’s fa­vor would sim­ply uphold a prac­tice al­ready in use in many states with­out re­quir­ing any state to change how it main­tains its rolls.”

Civil lib­er­ties groups are chal­leng­ing the state’s pro­gram for re­mov­ing thou­sands of peo­ple from voter rolls based on their fail­ure to vote in re­cent elec­tions. Those groups say Ohio was un­fairly dis­en­fran­chis­ing eli- gible Ohio vot­ers.

The Amer­i­can Civil Lib- er­ties Union of Ohio and the New York-based pub- lic ad­vo­cacy group Demos sued Re­pub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Jon Husted over the prac­tice. The 6th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in Cincin- nati ruled last year that the process vi­o­lates the na­tional vot­ing law.

Fol­low­ing that de­ci­sion, a fed­eral dis­trict court en­tered an in­junc­tion for the Novem­ber 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that al­lowed more than 7,500 Ohio vot­ers to cast a bal­lot.

The ACLU called the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s de­ci­sion dis­ap­point­ing, say­ing the agency has con­sis­tently re­jected the no­tion of purg­ing peo­ple from rolls just for vot­ing in­fre­quently.

“We have a Jus­tice De­part­ment that’s sup­posed to be pro­tect­ing and ex­pand­ing peo­ple’s abil­ity to vote,” Mike Brick­ner, se­nior pol­icy di­rec­tor for the agency’s Ohio chap­ter, said Tues­day. “By al­low­ing th­ese types of purges, that will mean peo­ple who are el­i­gi­ble to vote will have their regis­tra­tion sus­pended.”

Husted wel­comed the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s po­si­tion. Sev­eral other groups, in­clud­ing for­mer at­tor­neys with the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Civil Rights divi­sion and at­tor­neys gen­eral from 17 states, have adopted the same po­si­tion, Husted said.

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