A highly contentious ruling recently came down from the Supreme Court. Now failing to vote can lead to one’s name being removed from voter registration rolls in the case of Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision ruled the state of Ohio did not violate federal laws by purging voters who failed to vote for six years consecutively, and subsequently failed to confirm their Ohio state residency. The state of Ohio currently has the strictest laws in the nation.
This newest ruling protects similar laws passed in six other states all of which will be electing governors and/or U.S. Senators in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections in November – Pennsylvania, Georgia, Oregon, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Montana were all affected.
The left is up in arms over the ruling, as many consider this ruling to be a major victory for Republicans. In elections, Republicans are generally considered to benefit from lower voter turnout. Democrats generally do best in high-turnout elections.
Some believe that is due to the minority and lower income demographic that is prevalent amongst the Democrats’ ranks who tend to believe they are the most oppressed or subjugated by states’ policies. However, others believe Democrats tend to fare better in high-turnout elections due to a propensity for voter fraud.
The lawsuit was initiated by Joseph Helle when he returned home to Oak Harbor, Ohio after being deployed with the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon his return, he discovered he was no longer listed on the voting rolls in 2011. This was despite registering to vote prior to leaving home at the age of 18 and no change of address during his military service.
Helle is now the former mayor of Oak Harbor and currently running as a Democrat for Ohio’s 89th House District. The 31-year-old took office in 2016 and was recently asked to step down due to claims he no longer met the residency requirement. Helle claimed he was simply staying with his fiance in Port Clinton while renovations were being done on his Oak Harbor home.
Democrats accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and lower-income individuals, as well as attacking military veterans like Helle. Republicans have defended their position stating they are merely attempting to promote ballot integrity. The Trump administration reversed the position taken by the former Obama administration and actively backed Ohio’s method for purging voters as a means for voter fraud prevention.
Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute is the latest in a series of battles as the Trump administration works to combat voter fraud. Most of the states that backed Ohio have Republican governors or legislatures; most of those opposed are governed by Democrats.
The Supreme Court has heard a large number of voting rights cases since its controversial 2013 decision that struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act. This ruling forced many Southern states to clear any changes in election laws with federal officials due to cries of potential racism and accusations of reinstituting Jim Crowe laws.
Previously, the Supreme Court threw out congressional districting maps in both North Carolina and Virginia, calling it unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering. A similar case is pending in Texas, along with Wisconsin and Maryland where opponents claim election maps were drawn by state legislators for purely partisan gain.
Describing himself as a “red-state Democrat” Helle states he did not vote for either President Donald Trump or for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Helle states: “I’m not one of these people that flaunts their military service, by any means, but to be told I couldn’t do one of the fundamental rights I went off and served this country for was just appalling.”
The state of Ohio has used voter inactivity to trigger the process of purging those names from the voting rolls since 1994. However, no one saw fit to file a lawsuit against Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Jon Husted, until 2016, the year Donald Trump was elected President in an election that many believe was actively rigged against him by the Clintons with the active assistance of the former Obama administration.
Under federal laws enacted in 1993 and 2002, states cannot remove voters from registration lists because of their failure to vote, according to the lower court ruling. They can only do so if voters do not respond to confirmation notices.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati split 2-1 last year in a ruling that affirmed that decision, ruling that Ohio’s process was illegal and restoring the votes of 7,515 individuals previously removed from the voter rolls. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in May 2018.
USA Today reports:
“Justice Samuel Alito noted in his majority opinion that about one in eight voter registrations in the USA are invalid or inaccurate. He said failing to vote cannot be the sole reason for purging voters, but Ohio “removes registrants only if they have failed to vote and have failed to respond to a notice.”
“A state violates the failure-to-vote clause only if it removes registrants for no reason other than their failure to vote,” Alito said. By contrast, he said, Ohio waits six years before removal, following federal law “to the letter.”
“Justice Stephen Breyer penned an 18-page dissent for the liberal wing of the court, marking the sixth time this term the four liberals have dissented as a bloc. Rather than focusing on messy voter rolls, he recited the history of literacy tests, poll taxes and other restrictions he said were designed to “keep certain groups of citizens from voting.”
“Breyer noted that most voters simply ignore the warning notices, leaving their failure to vote as the principal cause for being purged from the rolls. The number who don’t vote or return notices far exceeds the number who actually have moved, he said.
“The streets of Ohio’s cities are not filled with moving vans; nor has Cleveland become the nation’s residential moving companies’ headquarters,” Breyer said. Rather, Ohio’s process “erects needless hurdles to voting of the kind Congress sought to eliminate.”
“Make no mistake: This case was about nothing more than Ohio Republicans trying to tilt elections in their favor by blocking communities of color from the ballot box — all under the guise of preventing ‘voter fraud,’ ” Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said.
“Justice Sonia Sotomayor made that point in a separate dissent, noting Ohio statistics show that the state’s process disproportionately affects minority, low-income, disabled and veteran voters.
“This purge program burdens the rights of eligible voters,” she said. “At best, purged voters are forced to needlessly re-register if they decide to vote in a subsequent election; at worst, they are prevented from voting at all because they never receive information about when and where elections are taking place.”
“Paul Smith, a veteran Supreme Court litigator who presented the challengers’ case in January, said the court’s ruling will hurt infrequent voters “who have a certain political perspective.”
“Myrna Pérez, director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, warned that other states “will take this decision as a green light to implement more aggressive voter purges as the 2018 elections loom.”
“Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted hailed the ruling as “a victory for election integrity and a defeat for those who use the federal court system to make election law across the country.” He said the state’s method of purging voters “can serve as a model for other states to use.”
“And Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, said the decision “should send a signal to other states to take reasonable steps to make sure that voters who died or moved away no longer remain on their voter rolls.”
“U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco — whose office changed sides in the case after Trump replaced President Obama — said Ohio had the right to streamline “over-inflated” and “bloated” voter registration rolls.”