Ohio's process for deleting people it deems inactive from its voting rolls is legal, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, in a decision that could boost the movement to clean up voting rolls across the country.
In a 5-4 decision, the court said that Ohio's removal of the voters from the rolls does not violate the National Voter Registration Act's "failure to vote" clause because the state sent voters "preaddressed, postage-prepaid return cards" asking them to confirm they still reside at a certain address and removes voters who do not return the card only after they "fail to vote in any election for four more years".
Writing for the majority, conservative Justice Samuel Alito said the court was not deciding whether Ohio's policy "is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date".
The procedure "does not strike any registrant exclusively by reason of the failure to vote", Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority. And in a scathing separate dissent, Justice Sotomayor reminded the Court that it was perverting the entire goal of the motor-voter law by construing it as permissive toward voter purges - particularly those which, like Ohio's, disproportionately affects minority voters, which the same law prohibits. A week before, voting-rights activists secured a victory in Arizona with a settlement in a lawsuit challenging the state's proof-of-citizenship voter-registration requirement. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to suppress votes from minorities and poorer people who tend to vote for Democrats. This term, it faces cases from Wisconsin and Maryland challenging what opponents claim were election maps drawn by state legislators for purely partisan gain.
"It is undisputed that OH does not remove a registrant on change-of-residence grounds unless the registrant is sent and fails to mail back a return card and then fails to vote for an additional four years", Alito wrote.
The Ohio program follows this to the letter.
If they do not respond to the notice or do not vote over the next four years, they are dropped from the registration rolls. But not everyone who moves notifies the post office, the state said.
OH has used voters' inactivity to trigger the removal process since 1994, although groups representing voters did not sue the Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, until 2016. "The only question before us is whether it violates federal law".
Civil rights groups have fought against the voting measure, arguing that it discourages minority turnout.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who's running as the Republican candidate for governor, issued a statement applauding the Supreme Court's decision for showing "that Ohio was following federal law in maintaining accurate voter rolls". But this case is about interpreting federal statutes, Alito emphasized: "We have no authority to second-guess Congress" or to decide whether Ohio's practice is the best way to keep its voter rolls current. A three-judge panel on that court had ruled 2-1 that Ohio's practice was illegal.