Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of the state of Ohio in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute. The decision focused on Ohio’s practice of purging voters from the eligible voter list if they didn’t vote for two years and if they didn’t respond to a postcard sent to confirm their mailing address.
Ohio’s practice is also known as the “use-it-or-lose-it” law. Ohio’s voter purge is the most aggressive effort of this kind in the nation. Since 2011, more than two million voters have been purged from Ohio’s voter list, more than any other state. The “use-it-or-lose-it” law led to at least 144,000 voters being removed from the voting rolls in the state’s three largest counties, home to Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus. In those counties, African-American voters are twice as likely to have been purged than white voters. And while most voters purged from the voting lists can re-register to vote, many don’t discover they are no longer on the voting rolls until election day, when it’s too late.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito made the case that Ohio’s voter purge practice didn’t violate the Voting Rights Act or the 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), a feat of judicial acrobatics, as both laws were designed with the clear intent of expanding voter participation, not restricting access to the ballot.
In his dissent, Justice Breyer mocked the logic of Ohio’s practice of assuming that voters’ nonresponse to a postcard provided evidence that voters had moved. He notes that “the streets of Ohio’s cities are not filled with moving vans; nor has Cleveland become the Nation’s residential moving companies’ headquarters.”
In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor cut to the heart of the problem of the majority decision to selectively focus on the trees, not the forest:
Congress enacted the NVRA against the backdrop of substantial efforts by States to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters, including programs that purged eligible voters from registration lists because they failed to vote in prior elections. The Court errs in ignoring this history and distorting the statutory text to arrive at a conclusion that not only is contrary to the plain language of the NVRA but also contradicts the essential purposes of the statute, ultimately sanctioning the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against.
Why this matters: Ultimately, this decision is significant not only because of the thousands of voters unfairly purged for from Ohio’s voting rolls, but also because it may lead the way to other Republican-controlled state legislatures following suit, now that the Supreme Court has given Ohio’s aggressive voter purge a green light.
Read more on the decision:
- The Supreme Court Is Helping Republicans Kill a Key Voting Rights Law (Ari Berman, Mother Jones)
- Supreme Court Upholds Ohio’s Purge of Voting Rolls (Adam Liptak, New York Times)
- Opinion analysis: Justices rule for Ohio in voter-registration dispute (Amy Howe, SCOTUSBlog)
- Supreme Court, in 5–4 Decision, Allows States to Purge Voters for Their Failure to Vote (Mark Joseph Stern, Slate)
More Election and voting rights news you might have missed this week…
1. Seven different ways the Supreme Court might rule on Gerrymandering this month
Check out FiveThirtyEight’s excellent feature on seven different possible outcomes of the partisan gerrymandering cases still before the Supreme Court. TL;DR version: Two are good, five are bad. Well, at least it’s better odds than the Avengers face vs. Thanos? (Galen Druke, FiveThirtyEight)
2. The Gerrymandering Project
Speaking of FiveThirtyEight and Gerrymandering, if you haven’t listened to their incredible six-part podcast on the issue, check it out now. It’s a balanced, thoughtful deep-dive into the issue and what can be done to address it. Essential listening for anyone who cares about voting issues.
3. “The Most Powerful Conservative Couple You’ve Never Heard Of”
Check out this profile of a couple who have already spent $26 million on the 2018 election, supporting conservative candidates. And yeah, I hadn’t heard of these guys, either. Time will tell if all this wild campaign spending pays off for rich donors like these two. They put a lot of money behind Roy Moore in Alabama earlier this year, so perhaps they’re not the best judges of talent? (Stephanie Saul and Danny Hakim, New York Times)
4. Get rid of voter registration?
Pointing out that voter participation in Norwegian countries is between 70 and 80 percent, compared to 30 and 50 percent in the U.S., a political science professor from Oslo, Norway modestly suggests we change our “useless” system and make it more like theirs. Check out “Voter registration is useless. So let’s get rid of it. ” (Knut Heidar, Washington Post)
5. “An unconstitutional power grab”
Former Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at U.C. Berkeley, Robert Reich, explains why the Trump Administration’s attempt to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census is such a threat not only to voting rights, but the political balance of power in the U.S. (Robert Reich, Salon)
6. PC Load Letter???
A printing error kept 118,000 names from the L.A. County voter registers last week. I was only shocked to learn that this story wasn’t from Florida. (Karma Allen, ABC News)