At every turn, Republicans want to make it harder for American citizens to vote. They know that if they make it difficult for poor urban, elderly, college and minority voters to vote, they will remain with unchecked power. No wonder then that they want to now kill the Motor Voter Act, which Mitch McConnell has been trying to destroy for nearly 30 years, and the Roberts Court may be the headsman that swings the axe.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear the newest challenge to the law, concerning whether Ohio can remove voters from the rolls who don’t vote over a six-year period. If a voter in Ohio misses an election, doesn’t respond to a subsequent mailing from the state, and then sits out two more elections, he or she is removed from the registration list, even if this person would otherwise be eligible to vote. Critics of this process say it turns voting into a “use it or lose it” right and will open the door to wider voter purges.
Ohio purged 2 million voters from 2011 to 2016, more than any other state, including over 840,000 for infrequent voting. At least 144,000 voters in Ohio’s three largest counties, home to Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, have been purged since the 2012 election, with voters in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods twice as likely to be removed as those in Republican-leaning ones, according to a Reuters analysis.
A federal appeals court ruled in September 2016 that the state’s purging of infrequent voters violated the NVRA, which states that someone cannot be removed from the rolls “by reason of the person’s failure to vote.” As a result of that ruling, 7,500 people who had been purged from the rolls were reinstated and were able to vote in the 2016 election.
Ohio says it should be allowed to remove these voters from the rolls under the NVRA, claiming that “a failure to respond to a notice— not a failure to vote—is the sole proximate cause of removal” under its purge program. Ohio adds that if the Supreme Court finds that the NVRA does prohibit its actions, it would raise “serious constitutional questions” about the law. A supporting brief by the American Civil Rights Union, a conservative group that has sued states to force aggressive voter purges, says that if “the NVRA indeed prohibits the states from utilizing inactivity as a factor that leads to deeming a registrant ultimately to be unqualified—as the lower court found—then the NVRA intrudes on the important federalist balance in the Constitution.”
One of the big reasons that Ohio went for Trump by 8 points in 2016 was that Jon Husted kicked nearly a million Ohioans off the voter rolls, the vast majority were registered Democrats. Now the GOP wants to repeat Ohio's voter purges in other states.
For its part, the Trump administration has come out squarely in support of voter purges. The Obama Justice Department opposed the Ohio purge program, but Trump’s DOJ abruptly switched sides in the case. “After this Court’s grant of review and the change in Administrations, the Department reconsidered the question,” the DOJ informed the Supreme Court in August. “It has now concluded that the NVRA does not prohibit a State from using nonvoting as the basis for sending a [removal] notice.”
In June 2017, the DOJ also sent a letter to 44 states informing them that it was reviewing their voter list maintenance procedures and asking how they planned to “remove the names of ineligible voters.” If Ohio wins at the Supreme Court, it will “certainly embolden” the department and GOP-controlled states to undertake aggressive voter purges, says Vanita Gupta, who headed the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division under Obama and is now president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
And that would open the door to broader challenges to the NVRA. “It’s a hugely significant case,” Gupta says. “If the court comes out with a broad ruling that says inactivity in voting is sufficient proof to kick a voter off of the rolls, that could have broad implications across the country for how voters are purged off the rolls per the National Voter Registration Act.”
In other words, if states are allowed to kick people off the voter rolls for not voting, then make it impossible to register to vote, we're done as a free country.
And the GOP knows it.