Wednesday, 20 June, 2018

Justices take up OH plan that targets inactive voters

GettyImages-621791576 Supreme Court To Decide on Trump-Backed Voting Rights Rule That Could Disenfranchise Thousands of Americans
Faye Gross | 11 January, 2018, 00:40

"Just as you have a right to vote you have a right not to vote", he told the justices.

Joseph Helle was expecting a different sort of reception when he returned home from Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and showed up to vote in his small OH town near Lake Erie.

At Wednesday's argument, the justices debated whether two federal laws allowed OH to cull its voting rolls based on failing to vote.

Twelve states, generally led by Democrats, filed a brief supporting Mr. Harmon. This term, it faces cases from Wisconsin and Maryland challenging what opponents claim were election maps drawn by state legislators for purely partisan gain.

OH says the program helps the state determine which citizens have died or moved to different jurisdictions, warranting their removal from the registry.

"If the court sides with OH", said Professor Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, "you'll see more red states making it easier to drop people from the voter registration rolls, and it's going to continue what I call the voting wars between the parties".

Helle feels that voters should not be forced to cast ballots for issues or candidates that they do not believe in, just to avoid being unregistered.

So the state asks people who haven't voted in two years to confirm their eligibility. If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are purged from the rolls.

The main argument on behalf of voters whose registrations were canceled is that federal voting law specifically prohibits states from using voter inactivity to trigger purges. Ohio Secretary of State Jon A. Husted appealed the lower court's decision to the Supreme Court, which took the case in May, 2017.

Opponents of Ohio's policy rallied outside the high court as the justices convened to hear arguments.

In 2015 alone, hundreds of thousands of people were deprived of the right to choose their elected leaders under the practice, which officially aims to keep voter rolls up to date and combat fraud.

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Joe Helle, a U.S. Army veteran now serving as mayor of Oak Harbor, was met with a surprise the first time he tried to cast a ballot after returning home in 2011 from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The election boards will then send out notices to those ineligible to vote.

"I was sitting there in the board of elections office crying", Helle said.

Helle shared his concerns and personal experience having been subject to the state's voter purge policy during a news conference in Columbus on Tuesday. Kennedy's vote often is decisive in voting cases that otherwise split conservative and liberal justices.

Samuel Spital is the director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc. A dozen mainly Democratic states also want the Supreme Court to declare that Ohio's system violates federal law.

According to current OH rules, anyone who fails to vote for two years receives a notice requesting an address confirmation.

"Other states should be encouraged to take similar and even further action to protect the sanctity of our nation's elections", he said. "Fifty or 60 percent of the voters in OH routinely don't vote over a two-year period". If they do nothing, their names eventually fall off the list of registered voters.

J. Christian Adams, a Republican on the Trump commission, himself said recently that voter ID was "yesterday's fight".

"Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and it is much too important to treat as a "use it or lose it" right", lawyer Stuart Naifeh of Demos told Reuters.

The Trump administration said the practice complies with federal law because people are not removed from the rolls "by reason of their initial failure to vote".

Tellingly, four Republican commissioners from Trump's now-defunct commission are involved in legal briefs supporting OH in the case.

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