clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Trump administration just came out in support of Ohio's voter purges

Attorney General Jeff Sessions And Intelligence Chiefs Hold Briefing On Classified Information Leaks
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump administration supports Ohio’s policy of kicking people off the voter registration rolls if they go six years without casting a ballot — which has led hundreds of thousands of people to lose their voting eligibility.

A lawsuit over the Ohio law is headed to the Supreme Court. As reported by Mother Jones’s Ari Berman, the Justice Department, in a stark reversal from the Obama administration, filed an amicus brief Monday in support of the state.

The case — featuring Jon Husted, the state’s secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor — hinges on whether the state law violates the 1993 federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), known as the Motor Voter Act, which was designed to make voter registration easier and simpler. The law prohibits invalidating voter registrations because people failed to vote.

Under the law, Ohio officials send an address verification letter to the registered address after a person has not voted for two consecutive years. If the person does not respond to the letter, and they also do not vote for four more years, then the person is purged from the rolls. That means they have to register again in order to cast a ballot.

A lower court sided with Ohio and upheld the law. But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision last September. The US Supreme Court will hear the case during its upcoming term this fall.

While the Motor Voter Act prohibits the removal of voters from the rolls “by reason of the person’s failure to vote,” acting US Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argued in the amicus brief that this should be interpreted as meaning removal from the rolls only by reason of failure to vote. Ohio, Wall argued, also tries to verify addresses, so failure to vote isn’t the only reason voters would be kicked off.

But the A. Philip Randolph Institute, an African-American trade union group, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and Larry Harmon, a man who was purged from the rolls, are the suing the state over the law. They argue that the law says each voter “has the right not to cast a vote — and the mere exercise of that right should not be the basis for removal from the voter rolls.” Ohio law would then, they argue, violate the law by removing someone’s registration with no evidence that they have actually moved addresses. The lawsuit was initially filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and Demos, a liberal think tank that works on election reform.

This case come as part of the Trump administration’s larger fight against voter fraud, which the president claims, without evidence, is widespread. Fights against voter fraud have often led to policies that simply make it harder for people to vote. And the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision could have long-lasting effects on protections for voters in Ohio and beyond.