Houston Chronicle

Voting purge upheld


The Supreme Court upholds Ohio’s efforts to purge its voting rolls, siding with Republican­s in a partisan battle over how far states can go in restrictio­ns on voting.

WASHINGTON — In the latest partisan battle over how far states can go in imposing restrictio­ns on voting, the Supreme Court on Monday upheld Ohio’s aggressive efforts to purge its voting rolls.

The court ruled that states may kick people off the rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from election officials. The vote was 5-4, with the more conservati­ve justices in the majority.

On one level, the decision sought to make sense of tangled statutory language. But it was also a vivid reminder that measures placing obstacles between people seeking to vote and their ability to cast ballots — including cutbacks on early voting, eliminatio­n of same-day registrati­on and tough voter ID laws — present dueling visions of democracy.

Republican­s have pushed for such restrictio­ns, arguing without evidence they are needed to combat what they say is widespread voter fraud. Democrats have pushed back, countering that the efforts are part of an attempt to suppress voting by Democratic constituen­cies, particular­ly minorities.

The case concerned Larry Harmon, a software engineer and Navy veteran who lives near Akron. He voted in the 2004 and 2008 presidenti­al elections but did not vote in 2012, saying he was unimpresse­d by the candidates. He also sat out the midterm elections in 2010 and 2014.

But in 2015, Harmon did want to vote against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana and found that his name had been stricken from the voting rolls. State officials said they had done so after sending Harmon a notice in 2011 asking him to confirm his eligibilit­y to vote and that he did not respond. Harmon said he did not remember receiving a notice, but he was dropped from the voter rolls.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Cincinnati, ruled in favor of Harmon in 2016, saying Ohio had violated the National Voter Registrati­on Act of 1993 by using the failure to vote as a “trigger” for sending the notices.

The Supreme Court reversed that ruling, allowing the approach by Ohio, which is more aggressive than any other state in purging its voter rolls. After skipping a single federal election cycle, voters are sent a notice. If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are purged from the rolls.

A few other states use similar approaches, but not one of them moves as fast.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joined Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion.

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