Ohio’s Voter Purge Goes to the Supreme Court: What You Need to Know

In November 2015, Larry Harmon went to vote on a ballot initiative, only to find that his name was not on the list at his usual polling location.

He had been purged. The reason? Larry had chosen not to vote in 2012, as he didn’t support either candidate and, he noted, “there isn’t a box on the ballot that says ‘none of the above.’” Larry also did not participate in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections.

The right to vote includes the right to decide whether, when, and how to exercise that right. Yet Ohio has adopted a “use it or lose it” policy that violated Larry’s right to choose when to vote, and has disenfranchised thousands of registered, eligible Ohioans.

Get Involved – Join a Let People Vote event near you

In April 2016, the ACLU of Ohio and Demos challenged Ohio’s purge process for violating the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which prohibits removing voters from the rolls solely because they did not vote in an election. We succeeded in blocking the purge for the November 2016 election — a move that allowed more than 7,500 voters who would have been purged to vote by provisional ballot in the presidential election.

Now we are headed to the Supreme Court to defend our victory. The Supreme Court should send a message to Ohio and states across the country that it is unconstitutional to kick voters off the rolls simply for not voting.

mytubethumbplay
%3Ciframe%20allowfullscreen%3D%22%22%20frameborder%3D%220%22%20height%3D%22315%22%20src%3D%22https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fembed%2Fps7YLN4nmSs%3Fautoplay%3D1%26version%3D3%22%20thumb%3D%22%2Ffiles%2Fweb18-scotus-voting-explainer-thumb-560x315.jpg%22%20width%3D%22560%22%3E%3C%2Fiframe%3E
Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from youtube.com.


How does Ohio decide whom to purge? 

Under Ohio’s purge rules, registered voters who do not participate in an election in a two-year period are sent a postcard, requesting them to confirm their address. If the voter doesn’t respond or vote in the next two consecutive federal general elections, they’re kicked off the rolls without further notice.

Is that legal? 

Voting in the United States is not a “use it or lose it” right. Ohio’s practice violates the National Voter Registration Act — sometimes called the Motor Voter law — which expressly prohibits removing voters solely because they did not vote in an election or return a piece of mail.

Who is most impacted? 

A Reuters analysis concluded that Ohio’s purge program disproportionately affected voters of color, particularly Black voters. Since Ohio focuses on purging people who vote infrequently, it may be because voters of color or low-income voters, in particular, generally have lower turnout.

We believe, though, that you shouldn’t be disenfranchised just because you vote less frequently than your neighbors.

What's at stake?

In 2016, more than 70 million registered voters didn’t cast a ballot according to the United States Election Assistance Commission. That’s more than a third of all registered voters in the country.

If the Supreme Court rules that states like Ohio can just kick people off the rolls for not voting, then the voting rights of millions of Americans could be at risk.

Want to expand access to the ballot and make our democracy more representative? Get involved. Participate in a “Let People Vote” voting rights action near you. Read more about the Let People Vote campaign here; sign up for updates here.

View comments (18)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

What a stupid arrogant elitist thing to say. Voting is not a privilege it's a right! Why should someone lose that right because they are transient or ill or just don't like the candidate? It's Unconstitutional.

D. Slone

So who were the morally corrupt, uniformed and generally incompetent voters who put "Teflon Don" in office and should they too be stricken from the voter roles? Unfortunately the answer is no, they have the right to vote the same as any other citizen and nothing should be done to suppress their access to voting either.

Anonymous

No, the vote is not a privilege. It is a right.

Common Sense

If you agree with Ohio's voter registration policy then you agree with breaking the law. This law --1993 National Voter Registration Act. So maybe you need to look in the mirror and call yourself the hypocrite. You are the one who agrees with breaking laws rather than trying to change them.

Heather

The Ohio purge policy doesn't force a voter to vote. Either show up to the polling place (feel free to cast a blank ballot if you don't want to support any candidate or referendum) or respond to a mailing. That's six years to cast a ballot - with or without any markings on it - or four years to respond to a mailing saying, "Yes, I still live in Ohio."

In an era of concern over privacy rights, as a voter, I would prefer my information to be purged from the system if I'm inactive for such a long time. Six years isn't unreasonable when balancing poll access against privacy protection. This rule decreases the chances of my identity being used by third parties, stolen, or otherwise used in a disreputable manner; on the flip side, if I know I skipped the last presidential election, I should check my voter registration status before the next one.

Anonymous

You are an idiot. Voting is a right in any decent democratic country and people should be entitled to choose whether or not evoke that right during any federal or state election. The fact that you’re fine about taking away their rights in order to make the voting register look more orderly says a lot about you. Basically, you’re a moron and a scummy person.

Anonymous

"which expressly prohibits removing voters solely because they did not vote in an election or return a piece of mail."

Is the ACLU now in a habit of lying about what the law actually says? Not only does the law not prohibit removing voters for failure to respond to a piece of mail, it expressly permits removing voters on that basis.

Isabella

Once you register to vote, that should be it, Just because you CAN do something, Doesn't mean you SHOULD do it.

Pages

Stay Informed