Supreme Court hears arguments over Ohio's voter registration law

Wearing a mask that says "silenced", Appollos Baker, with the American Federation of Government Employees, rallies outside the Supreme Court in opposition to Ohio's voter roll purges, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Washington.

Opponents of the OH process say federal law prohibits using voting inactivity to trigger purges.

Under Ohio rules, registered voters who fail to vote in a two-year period are targeted for eventual removal from registration rolls, even if they haven't moved and remain eligible.

But he ran into sharply skeptical questions from two of the court's liberals. One Ohio man, a Trumbull County truck driver and Army veteran, said in an affidavit supporting the plaintiffs in the lawsuit he was "completely blindsided" after learning he was no longer registered to vote for the 2016 election.

Purging people based on failure to return a card that might not get forwarded to you, or if you're in the military service and might not have an easy way to return it, makes it harder to vote, Mayor Joe Helle argued to Husted in full view of local and national media. It tells them that they did not respond to a notice that says you're going to lose the registration if you don't vote through two elections.

But Helle, who was listening, pushed back. "It's only out of state folks who seem to have trouble with how to implement the laws in OH".

"The ability to register to vote is a fundamental right of American citizenship".

"From a mountainside, sir?" But when he came home in 2011, he found a battle he didn't expect.

The justices heard arguments Wednesday morning in the case, which could have broad implications. Kennedy's vote often is decisive in voting cases that otherwise split conservative and liberal justices.

The organizations demanded OH reinstate otherwise eligible voters who were improperly removed from the rolls pursuant to the Supplemental Process or to count provisional ballots cast by such persons. "It has the shortest timeline for removing people for non-voting", Naifeh said.

With Congress saying voting is a "constitutional right", can we allow you to use failure to vote as evidence of moving when people have a right not to vote if they choose?

Sotomayor asked for an explanation. Many states seek to adopt the same rules as OH, suppressing thousands of voters across the country. Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this troubling voting rights case.

What's the state supposed to do?

Justice Stephen Breyer also asked questions that suggested he too could side with Ohio. "All of these impediments result in large numbers of people not voting in certain spots in the state". "It doesn't tell them nothing".

He agreed that a letter returned undelivered would suggest the voter had moved.

Yes, said Smith, that's what 14 states do.

Harmon says that after several years of not voting, he discovered he'd been removed in 2015. In 2012, neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney excited him, so he decided not to vote. To his surprise, he was told he was no longer registered to vote in the state. They are removed for failing to respond to a written notice, and then not voting in two federal elections.

"I kind of got angry", Harmon said. He was turned away at the polls.

He said he doesn't remember getting any sort of mailed request from the state to confirm his voting address. The last time he voted, he said, was in 2008. "Whether I use it or not is up to my personal discretion". He said he voted absentee while he was deployed, but when he returned to OH he discovered that the ballot apparently never arrived and he had been purged from the voter rolls.

The law is aimed at making voter registration easier.

Government officials across the United States try to maintain accurate voter rolls by removing people who have died or moved away.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine declined to be interviewed for this article. Based on OH law, Harmon and thousands of other registered voters were then unknowingly purged from voting lists.

The Supreme Court is diving into state efforts to pare their voting rolls by targeting people who haven't voted in a while.

Harmon and his lawyers contend that the trigger for removal is in fact the failure to vote in two consecutive elections. They all point to methods they say are far more effective than unregistered mail for ascertaining whether someone has changed his or her legal voting address. The reason: they don't know, but they had assumed he moved away from his district.

Republican-led OH is one of a handful of states that use voters' inactivity to trigger a process that could lead to their removal from voter rolls.

Husted says the system has been in place for over 20 years, under Democratic and Republican secretaries of state.

"We don't believe it's a partisan case", he said. These laws led to more voter registration outlets, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles. In 2016, 29 percent of the registered voters in OH failed to vote.

Two other cases could have a big impact on USA elections.

Partisan fights over ballot access are being fought across the country.

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