Supreme Court Raises Stakes on Ohio Election-Integrity Case
Challenge to state system for purging voter rolls could have far-reaching impact across U.S.
The Supreme Court Tuesday agreed to settle a dispute about whether Ohio can clean its voter registration rolls by removing voters who do not show up in multiple elections or respond to requests to verify their addresses.
The case could have a widespread impact since many states follow the same procedures. Fifteen states filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the justices to take the case.
“States still struggle with their critical list-maintenance duties, and the Sixth Circuit’s logic could have far-reaching effects.”
The Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ohio’s system violates provisions of the Help America Vote Act.
“States still struggle with their critical list-maintenance duties, and the Sixth Circuit’s logic could have far-reaching effects,” the state wrote in legal arguments in April. “Review is appropriate now, moreover, because States must defend suits from both sides on this issue, and the Court can resolve the petition outside the context of an election.”
Ohio’s practice is to send notices to every voter who has not cast ballots over the two-year period in order to confirm that he or she still lives at the address listed on the voter registration form. If the voter does not respond and does not vote during the next four years, the state removes the name from the list of registered voters and requires a new registration form in order to participate in future elections.
Voting-integrity advocates praised the decision by the high court to hear the appeal.
“It was essential to election integrity that the court take this case,” Heritage Foundation legal scholar Hans van Spakovsky said in a statement. “That is why I and a number of other former Justice Department lawyers filed an amicus brief urging the court to accept it for review. The 6th Circuit’s total misinterpretation of federal law damages the ability of election officials to maintain the accuracy and security of their voter rolls.”
Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, told LifeZette that the case is important because Ohio is “the greatest political prize there is” and because its procedure is consistent with federal law and the practice of other states.
“What Ohio is defending is essentially already federal law,” he said. “It’s not like they grafted on other procedures on what is already required of them.”
Churchwell said the plaintiffs, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, want to stop the state from sending notices after a two-year period of inactivity.
"They're trying to change the trigger mechanism," he said. "They're trying to limit the opportunity to reach out to the voter and say, 'Hey, are you still here?'"
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, whose organization also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Ohio, argued the 6th Circuit's ruling would adversely impact a settlement his organization negotiated with Ohio to resolve a lawsuit in 2014. He noted that the agreement required the state to send a "supplemental mailing" every year to any voter who had no contact with elections officials in two years. Previously, the state had sent the mailing every other year.
"The citizens of Ohio may yet see their right to clean and fair elections upheld. Clearly, dirty election rolls can mean dirty elections," he said in a statement. "We hope that the Supreme Court will reverse the Sixth Circuit decision and allow Ohio to more easily remove ineligible names from its voter registration lists."