Supreme Court Opens Door to More Red-State Voter Purges

Sotomayor dissent tackles impact of Ohio ruling on minority voters

Sotomayor dissent tackles impact of Ohio ruling on minority voters

The U.S. Supreme Court gave states more power to purge their voting databases of people who haven't cast ballots recently, upholding an OH system that could become a model for other Republican-controlled states.

The four dissenters (with Stephen Breyer writing the main dissent) rejected the idea that a use-it-or-lose-it approach to voting rights is acceptable under current federal law.

Unlike many voting cases that come before the court, Wednesday's case centered not on grand constitutional principles but on interpreting seemingly contradictory directives of federal law.

Several other states that use the failure to vote as a trigger in efforts to cleanse their registration rolls could be affected by the high court's decision in the OH case, including Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.

"Ohio's process cannot be unreasonable because it uses the change-of-residence evidence that Congress said it could: the failure to send back a notice coupled with the failure to vote for the requisite period", Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito write in the decision. A Philip Randolph Institute, a challenge to Ohio's voter roll purges.

"With the midterm election season now underway, the court's ruling demands heightened levels of vigilance as we anticipate that officials will read this ruling as a green light for loosely purging the registration rolls in their community", said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Seventeen states, all with Republican attorneys general, sided with Ohio's position.

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The Crosscheck program, which involves 26 states around the country, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as some states accuse it of improperly flagging eligible voters.

All states are required to periodically comb the voter rolls for people who may have moved to another state - a process known as list maintenance.

An Ohio voter and two interest groups said the procedure violates the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, more commonly known as the Motor Voter law.

Aside from the fact that I'd like to do away with voter registration entirely, none of this strikes me as either unreasonable or likely to change things significantly.

Taken as a whole, this welter of provisions could plausibly be read in the way Justice Samuel Alito does on behalf of the Courts' Republicans - as an instruction manual to carry out the sort of voter purge that OH used in this case.

OH contends voters are not purged from registration rolls for not voting but for failing to respond to a notice mailed by the state to them and then not casting a ballot for four more years. Other states begin the purge process after a voter goes an entire four-year cycle without casting a ballot. Thankfully, today the Supreme Court reined in one of those lower court opinions, but the broader threat to state powers over election integrity remains strong.

In other words, a voter doesn't even get on the list of people subject to a purge unless they fail to vote for two consecutive years. The Supreme Court is supreme over the Sixth Circuit. If there was a clearly, solidly established presumption in favor of the right to vote and a difficult set of obstacles for would-be vote suppressors to overcome, decisions like this would be hard to write.

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