Jus­tice re­verses course, backs Ohio in purge of voter rolls.

De­ci­sion re­verses Obama-era stance

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

The Jus­tice De­part­ment re­versed course this week to sup­port Ohio’s ef­forts to purge its voter rolls, back­ing the state’s dis­puted prac­tices in a high-pro­file case set to be heard this fall by the Supreme Court.

De­part­ment lawyers said in a brief filed with the court that since Pres­i­dent Trump took of­fice they’ve reeval­u­ated the case and con­cluded the Na­tional Voter Reg­is­tra­tion Act does not pro­hibit rules like those used in Ohio to re­move thou­sands of vot­ers from the state’s vot­ing rolls af­ter the state deemed them “in­ac­tive.”

Ohio has been send­ing no­tices to vot­ers who didn’t cast bal­lots dur­ing a two-year pe­riod to in­quire whether they had moved, died or oth­er­wise be­come in­el­i­gi­ble to vote. If those reg­is­tered vot­ers did not re­spond to the no­tices or failed to cast a bal­lot over the next four years, they could be re­moved from the state’s voter rolls.

Vot­ing-rights ad­vo­cates said the Na­tional Voter Reg­is­tra­tion Act, a 1993 fed­eral law usu­ally dubbed “Mo­tor-Voter,” doesn’t al­low states to strip out in­fre­quent vot­ers with­out more proof.

The Trump Jus­tice De­part­ment ac­knowl­edged the law, but said it still al­lows some flex­i­bil­ity and Ohio is within the rules.

“The NVRA elim­i­nated the prac­tice of re­mov­ing non­vot­ers with­out no­tice and re­quired States to use more pro­tec­tive no­tice pro­ce­dures,” gov­ern­ment lawyers wrote in their new brief. “But the leg­isla­tive his­tory in­di­cates that Congress did not re­quire States to aban­don en­tirely the wide­spread prac­tice of treat­ing non­vot­ing as an in­di­ca­tion that a reg­is­trant may have be­come in­el­i­gi­ble.”

That’s a re­ver­sal from dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, when the Jus­tice De­part­ment sided with ad­vo­cates and against Ohio when the case went to the 6th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals. Then, the de­part­ment said a state “must have re­li­able ev­i­dence that the voter has moved” be­fore re­mov­ing some­one from the rolls.

De­clin­ing to vote did not pro­vide such ev­i­dence, the de­part­ment had ar­gued.

The ap­peals court ruled that Ohio’s process is too strict and found that the no­ti­fi­ca­tion Ohio sends out to those it wants to re­move from its books isn’t com­pli­ant with fed­eral law.

But vot­ing rights groups say the about­face from the Jus­tice De­part­ment could lead to purges in other states.

“The law hasn’t changed since the De­part­ment ac­cu­rately told the Court that Ohio’s voter purge was un­law­ful. The facts haven’t changed. Only the lead­er­ship of the De­part­ment has changed,” said Kris­ten Clarke, pres­i­dent and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Lawyers’ Com­mit­tee for Civil Rights Un­der Law. “The Jus­tice De­part­ment’s lat­est ac­tion opens the door for wide-scale un­law­ful purg­ing of the voter reg­is­tra­tion rolls across our coun­try.”

Since 2011, the state has purged ap­prox­i­mately 2 mil­lion peo­ple from the voter rolls and law­mak­ers are con­cerned the purges were a par­ti­san tac­tic.

Rep. Tim Ryan, Ohio Demo­crat, noted that in ma­jor cities like Cleve­land, Colum­bus and Cincin­nati, vot­ers were re­moved from the rolls in Demo­cratic-lean­ing neigh­bor­hoods at about twice the rate as in Repub­li­can-lean­ing neigh­bor­hoods.

“The De­part­ment of Jus­tice should be ded­i­cated to pre­serv­ing and ex­pand­ing the right of ev­ery el­i­gi­ble cit­i­zen to vote,” Mr. Ryan said in a state­ment. “Un­der Pres­i­dent Trump, the Jus­tice De­part­ment has sanc­tioned the state of Ohio’s ef­forts to wrong­fully strip Ohioans of their right to par­tic­i­pate freely in the elec­toral process.”

Ohio Sec­re­tary of State Jon Husted, mean­while, cheered the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s new stance.

“This case is about main­tain­ing the in­tegrity of our elec­tions, some­thing that will be harder to do if elec­tions of­fi­cials are not be able to prop­erly main­tain the voter rolls,” Mr. Husted said.

Con­ser­va­tive le­gal in­ter­est groups such as the Amer­i­can Civil Rights Union, Ju­di­cial Watch and the Land­mark Le­gal Foun­da­tion joined a group of 17 state at­tor­neys gen­eral in sup­port­ing Ohio’s claims.

The Supreme Court said in May that it would hear the case in its next term, which be­gins in Oc­to­ber. Those on both sides are watch­ing for in­di­ca­tions of how much lee­way the jus­tices will give states to cull their voter lists.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gues they are lit­tered with du­pli­cate names and nonci­t­i­zens, lead­ing to fraud.

Mr. Trump es­tab­lished a voter in­tegrity com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate fraud and bar­ri­ers to vot­ing. The com­mis­sion has been con­tro­ver­sial, with Democrats say­ing there is no wide­spread ev­i­dence of fraud and that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is a waste of time.

The com­mis­sions has run into prob­lems get­ting ac­cess to voter reg­is­tra­tion data. A num­ber of states have balked at shar­ing their voter data with the com­mis­sion — even though many of them make the same in­for­ma­tion avail­able for pur­chase by cam­paigns, po­lit­i­cal par­ties, re­searchers or even the gen­eral pub­lic.

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