Supreme Court approves Ohio's method of purging voter rolls

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The only question before us is whether it violates federal law.

Unlike many voting cases that come before the court, Monday's case centered not on grand constitutional principles but on interpreting seemingly contradictory directives of federal law.

Voting rights advocates may have lost a major battle Monday with a 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding Ohio's aggressive voter purge policies, but they're not willing to concede the war. The state presumes a voter has moved if he does not respond to that notice to confirm he still lives at the address on file and also fails to vote in at least one election over the next four years. If the notice is ignored and the voter fails to update a registration over the next four years, the registration is canceled.

At least a dozen other politically conservative states said they would adopt a similar practice if OH prevailed, as a way of keeping their voter registration lists accurate and up to date.

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The case arose when U.S. Navy veteran Larry Harmon went to his local polling place in OH to vote in 2015.

"On the one hand dramatically increasing the number of voters on the voter rolls but, on the other, giving states the flexibility they need to manage the issues that arise when you have over-inflated voter rolls", the Trump administration lawyer Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in a court brief. Today's opinion does not appear to be an expansive new grant of power to purge unwanted voters, nor does it suggest that the motor voter law itself is problematic. The state appealed, saying the process targets people who have failed to respond to a notice, not those who have failed to vote. Hasen said the lawsuit the court resolved Monday did not involve allegations of discrimination against minority voters, and he suggested the laws in OH and other states could be vulnerable to a legal challenge on those grounds.

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia do not use failure to vote to initiate the cancellation process, according to the League of Women voters. That law bars states from removing anyone "by reason of the person's failure to vote".

"We have no authority to second-guess Congress or to decide whether Ohio's [law] is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date", Alito wrote. The former OH secretary of state was named in the legal case.

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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. When he showed up at the polls in 2015 he was told his registration had been canceled. If they finally woke up from oblivion years later, they could always re-register to vote.

Justice Sotomayor, who joined with the liberal justices in dissenting and also wrote a separate dissenting opinion, spoke to that past as well. The U.S. Court of Appeals blocked the state law, ruling that it violates a 1993 national voter registration law that says voters can't be removed from voting simply because they didn't vote.

After a Florida voter is placed on inactive status, he or she can be removed, or moved to ineligible status, after not updating their record, asking for a mail ballot or not voting in two presidential elections after being declared inactive.

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