The fight over how Ohio has maintained its voter rolls has made it to the nation’s highest court.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case involving the removal from Ohio's voter rolls people who hadn’t cast a ballot for six years. Secretary of State Jon Husted is happy about that.
“Well we think it’s great news because it’s going to give us a chance to validate that Ohio is following the rules for how you are supposed to maintain voter rolls," Husted says.
Back in the fall, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the state’s process for clearing ineligible voters, saying it punished inactive voters. It’s a criticism Husted isn’t willing to accept.
“For 20 years, Ohio has used the process spelled out in the national Voting Rights Act that says that we follow this process," Husted says. "If you don’t vote for two years, we send out a postcard in an attempt to connect to you to see if you still want to be registered to vote and to vote at the address you are registered at. If you do not respond and you do not vote for another four years, for a total of six years, then we remove you from the voter rolls. That’s what the Ohio law says. That’s what the federal law says.”
But Freda Levenson, the legal director for the Ohio ACLU, says that’s not what federal law allows. She says it’s a form of voter suppression, and that’s why the lower court ruled against the state last fall.
“The Sixth Circuit’s enjoining of Ohio’s improper practices allowed more than 7,500 Ohioans to cast a ballot in the last federal election," Levenson says. "What’s at stake here is that decision.”
The state was required to allow those removed voters to cast ballots in the 2016 election. And Levenson says she thinks the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court’s decision.
“There’s nothing about the right to vote that says ‘use it or lose it.’ And, in fact, the NVRA, also called 'motor voter,' specifically says that failure to vote cannot be a reason to deny a person the right to vote," Levenson says. "We’re talking here about people who are still eligible. They live in Ohio. They haven’t registered elsewhere. They are still alive.”
Husted says this policy has removed more than 560,000 dead voters from the rolls since he took office as Secretary of State back in 2010. And he says the policy has removed more than 1.6 million voters who had duplicate registrations on file.
Husted says it’s important for him to be able to continue the policies that he was using because proper maintenance of voter rolls means fewer Ohioans will have trouble casting a ballot.
Husted, who's now running for Ohio Governor in 2018, says it should be easy to vote but hard to cheat. But critics say he's unfairly putting up barriers to qualified voters.