Supreme Court Okays Ohio Voter Purge For Inactivity

In the context of voting, the justices uphold 'use it or lose it.'

Supreme Court okays Ohio voter purge
J. Scott Applewhite / AP Images

In the context of voting, the justices uphold 'use it or lose it.'

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the state of Ohio can legally remove inactive voters from the rolls while maintaining compliance with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. Writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision, Justice Samuel Alito noted that the process used in Ohio only removes individuals after six years of nonvoting.

Alito and the four other Republican appointees formed the majority in this particular case, with the four Democratic appointees in the dissent. The decision reverses an appeals court ruling that determined that the state had wrongly removed tens of thousands of voters in what is referred to in Ohio as the supplemental process.

Ohio officials flag nonvoters after two years of inactivity and sends them postage-paid cards to confirm that they are still active or they can update their address online.

“So Ohio asks people who have not voted in two years to confirm their eligibility. If they do, or if they show up to vote over the next four years, voters remain registered. If they do nothing, their names fall off the list of registered voters,” The Guardian explained.

Ohio only commences the potential purge after first reviewing voter rolls with a change of address notices sent to the post office.

In his opinion, Alito explained that “We have no authority to second-guess Congress or to decide whether Ohio’s Supplemental Process is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date. The only question before us is whether it violates federal law. It does not,” the Washington Times reported.

Liberals and Democrat groups have charged that this decision is tantamount to voter suppression or discrimination against minorities. Republicans insist that the process is a way to combat voter fraud. Against this backdrop, many liberals are also still upset that the GOP-controlled Senate refused to take action on Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland which paved the way for the eventual nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee.

“Adding to the tension in the case, the Trump administration reversed the position taken by the Obama administration and backed Ohio’s method for purging voters,” the Associated Press added.

The Ohio decision will make it easier for other states to implement similar inactive voter purges presumably without the risk of litigation. Six states already follow a similar procedure to clean up voter rolls.

The full text of the majority and dissenting opinions in the Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute case can be read here.

Among other anticipated end-of-term rulings, the high court will also soon release its decision on mandatory union dues, another highly watched case that could have major national ramifications. Two cases involving gerrymandering of congressional districts are also pending.