Despite Supreme Court Ruling, Voting Is Still Not a ‘Use It or Lose It’ Right

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that an Ohio voter purge program can resume, finding that the practice does not violate the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The decision is a setback for voting rights in America and devastating for the thousands of Ohio voters who will show up at the polls only to learn that they have been purged and barred from casting a ballot — which happened to our client Larry Harmon in 2015. 

The ruling, however, is not a green light for states to initiate wholesale purges of registered voters however they see fit. While the court concluded that Ohio’s practice was permitted under the NVRA, it was unmistakably clear that states cannot purge registered voters without first providing notice and an opportunity to stay on the rolls. 

Along with our partners, the ACLU challenged Ohio’s voter purge process, which targets registered voters who do not vote in a two-year period for removal from the rolls. Here’s what the process looks like: Ohioans who don’t vote for two years are sent a nondescript postcard from the Ohio secretary of state’s office requesting a confirmation of their address. If those voters don’t respond to the notice or vote within the next two federal election cycles (or four years), they are kicked off the rolls without further notice. 

For decades, the Department of Justice, which enforces the NVRA, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, maintained that these kinds of purges are illegal — including in the run up to the 2016 election in this very case. Under Trump, however, the Justice Department flipped sides. It’s a stark reminder of the administration yet again reversing course on civil rights. 

As Justice Sotomayor pointed out in her dissent, the NVRA’s restrictions on voter purge practices were created “against the backdrop of substantial efforts by States to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters,” including purges based on registrant’s failure to vote. As a result, the NVRA expressly prohibits purging voters just because they don’t vote. The court, however, concluded that Ohio’s practice of targeting infrequent voters for removal does not violate the NVRA — even though hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters, disproportionately minority, low-income, disabled, and veterans — were disenfranchised since this practice began. 

Nevertheless, although the court permitted Ohio’s purge program, it did so because the targeted voters are removed only after they receive a notice and subsequently do not vote or respond to the notice for another four years. As Justice Alito acknowledged, “the NVRA is clear about the need to send a ‘return card,’” before a state may remove a registered voter.

So while today’s decision “ultimately sanction[s] the very purging” of minority and low-income voters that Congress sought to prevent in enacting the NVRA, as noted by Justice Sotomayor, states do not have unfettered discretion to purge voters. States should beware of trying to turn the clock back on voting rights by failing to heed the NVRA’s limits on purge practices. 

As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent:

“Communities that are disproportionately affected by unnecessarily harsh registration laws should not tolerate efforts to marginalize their influence in the political process, nor should allies who recognize blatant unfairness stand idly by. Today’s decision forces these communities and their allies to be even more provocative and vigilant in holding their States accountable and working to dismantle the obstacles they face in exercising the fundamental right to vote.”

We agree, and we will continue to monitor states to protect our voting rights this fall and beyond. In fact, we, along with a number of other voting rights advocates, recently secured one preliminary victory against an illegal voter purge program.

Once registered, a voter should not be disenfranchised so long as the voter remains eligible to vote. That basic principle is one that should be jealously guarded in our democracy regardless of one’s political persuasion.

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Anonymous

Remember the term civil liberties ? I remember when we were in charge.Now we have bosses.

Debra

Trump you are not an American. You are a traitor. Tyranny and LIES is your way of ruling. You are a freaking coward. You run and hide from these men. Better for your courage if you can twitter or call on the phone. YOU Trump are no one's hero! You and your family are criminals. I hope everyone with dirt on you will come forward. You need to be destroyed. Toatally torn down so your Cult Members will be torn down too. You Trupublicans are the worst thing to happen to America in 70 years. We need our Allies. I will not allow my America be used to murder innocents. Trump, you are a con man. A bully who runs for cover over everything. Trump is a LOSER. He is A coward and a Oath Breaker. He is not worth the blood sweat and tears our people have died for America. Cadet BONE SPURS got 5 deferments. He will never be anyone's hero. You are a Bigot. A hate=filled bag of pus. You are Toxic. poison. You are not brave. YOU talk tough. You coward. Bullies are always cowards. They have others fight their fights. Trump go to hell. YOU are not fit to stand on the shoulders of men far greater than you ever will be. You are a POSER. You have no talents except destroying others because they teased you. Oh Boo-hoo. FU.

Anonymous

LMFAO . At him. I think he IS going to be ruined. Well that's what I have to tell myself every single day and I still cry for hours. I thought moving out of America would help. I didn't know it would make some people from the country I moved to hate & even physically attack me 3 times.

Anonymous

They aren't purged forever. They just have to go and reapply and that's a very easy process. Most people who haven't voted in years would probably have to go get a new card anyway and check to see where they are supposed to vote.

Anonymous

Thank goodness. Finally the highest court in our country stands up for ballot integrity. It is the voters' responsibility to stay informed about changes to the system.

Anonymous

Really? Maybe some have no way to run back and forth to do these things. Maybe you should get off of your high horse and have a heart.

RepublicansAreStupid

That enough people in the US are dumb enough, stupid enough, hateful enough, partisan enough and or brainless enough that Trump even had any chance in any election anywhere is proof positive that America is over. All is passed except the dying. Bye bye.

DemonratsCryOnl...

Were waiting! So get on with it! By the way, just because you and your ilk were foolish enough to place all your eggs in a hateful, criminal candidates basket, is exactly why you're lashing out at the great American people today! Your problem is, you only like America when you get your way, which is totally unpatriotic and pathetic! Luckily you live in the greatest country in the world that allows you to hate it but still continue to enjoy the benefits of being a citizen! If you were Russian, you could look forward to dying from radiation poisoning!

Anonymous

Oh, this is so disappointing and frightening. Couple of questions for the ACLU:
1) How many states have a voter purge policy?
2) What prevents other states from passing a law that will purge voters?
3) I think another problem needs to be addressed to ensure people show up to the polls is when the elections are held. Why is it always on a Tuesday? Why not on a Saturday or Sunday?
4) Can the ACLU put forth a case on behalf of working class citizens of the US to conduct elections on a Saturday or Sunday, when the majority of people are not at work?

Anonymous

Polls are open late into the night all over the country you very unsmart person! They would never open the polls on the weekend because the majority of government employees are off all weekend, and they will never change that! Forcing people to vote?!? Wow that sounds a lot like a communist country! And one last question, do you think the ACLU is actually going to answer you here?!? Well, if they did, it sure wouldn't be on a weekend!

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