Opinion analysis: Justices rule for OH in voter-registration dispute


Ohio's rules, which use voter inactivity to trigger a process that can lead to their removal from the voter rolls, are similar to those of states like Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Georgia.

The decision was a blow for voting-rights advocates who argued that Ohio's regime - which removes from the rolls voters who miss six years of federal elections and fail to return a postcard mailed to them by the state - was a violation of the National Voter Registration Act.

Justice Samuel Alito said for the court that OH is complying with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.

The four dissenters (with Stephen Breyer writing the main dissent) rejected the idea that a use-it-or-lose-it approach to voting rights is acceptable under current federal law.

"Voters have been struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods", the study found. "Neighborhoods that have a high proportion of poor, African-American residents are hit the hardest". This term, it faces cases from Wisconsin and Maryland challenging what opponents claim were election maps drawn by state legislators for purely partisan gain. "In my view, Ohio's program does just that".

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who filed a separate dissent, said that Congress enacted the voter registration law "against the backdrop of substantial efforts by states to disenfranchise low-income and minority voters".

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The challengers said there are six states that remove voters from their registration lists for failure to vote, but that OH is the most aggressive.

"The notice in question here warns recipients that unless they take the simple and easy step of mailing back the pre-addressed, postage prepaid card - or take the equally easy step of updating their information online - their names may be removed from the voting rolls if they do not vote during the next four years", he wrote.

OH is perennially a battleground state in presidential elections and has given its electoral votes to the eventual victor in 28 of the last 30 elections.

"With the midterm election season now underway, the court's ruling demands heightened levels of vigilance as we anticipate that officials will read this ruling as a green light for loosely purging the registration rolls in their community", said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The case was sparked when OH resident and Navy veteran Larry Harmon went to go vote in 2015, but found he had been purged from the rolls.

Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters, said the Supreme Court "got this one wrong". A three-judge panel on that court had ruled 2-1 that Ohio's practice was illegal.