Jan 10, 2018

Use It or Lose It: U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up Ohio's Voter Purge

Use It or Lose It: U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up Ohio's Voter Purge

Mary Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's "use it or lose it" method of maintaining its voter rolls will be debated before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday.

The high court will hear arguments in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, an appeal of a lower court ruling that found Ohio violated federal law by purging voters from the rolls because of inactivity.

Oak Harbor Mayor Joe Helle, a former U.S. Army sergeant, says he returned home from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to discover he was not allowed to cast a ballot.

"I was sitting there in the Board of Elections office, crying," he relates. "And it's not like me to flaunt my military service by any means, but to be a veteran, go serve my country for so long, to come home and be told that I cannot exercise one of the fundamental rights that I went and defended is ridiculous."

Ohio voters who do not cast a ballot for two years are sent a mailer asking if they wish to remain registered. If there is no response and if they do not vote for another four years, they are stricken from the rolls.

It's estimated that happened to about 1.2 million Ohio voters between 2011 and 2016.

Secretary of State Jon Husted will be on hand Wednesday for arguments, and says the decades-old practice is essential to preserving election integrity.

Daniel Tokaji, co-counsel in the case, counters that there are other legal mechanisms states can use to keep registration rolls clean, such as using the Postal Service's change-of-address system or checking registrations in other states.

"Facts matter and the law matters even in 2018," Tokaji stresses. "If Ohio or any other state is purging people from the rolls because of their failure to vote, that is a clear violation of federal law, period."

Seventeen other states signed a brief supporting Ohio's case. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in the next few months.

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