General Civil Liberties Press Release

09.25.17

Supreme Court Battle Against Ohio’s Illegal Voter Purges Draws Support in 18 Amicus Briefs

Voting Rights

CLEVELAND — A diverse group of organizations and individuals has filed 18 amicus briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down an Ohio voter purge practice that has resulted in thousands of Ohioans being denied their right to vote. Briefs have been signed by groups that include current and former U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials, 12 states, current and former Ohio election officials, historians, veterans and disability advocates, and civil rights and voting rights organizations. On November 8, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in this case and decide whether to affirm the Sixth Circuit’s decision.

In Ohio, registered voters are presumed to have moved if they do not vote in a two-year period, and after a subsequent four-year confirmation period, their names are stricken from the registration rolls. The amicus briefs filed on Friday bring unique perspectives in urging the Supreme Court to strike down this fundamentally flawed practice as unlawful under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).

One brief, filed by former DOJ officials who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, points out that the solicitor general’s brief reflects a sudden departure in how the DOJ has interpreted the NVRA over a 20-year period, including in a brief filed in the court below in this very case.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia also filed a brief describing how their states are able to accurately maintain their rolls without unnecessarily disenfranchising eligible voters. The states joining this brief include states with both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State. Additionally, a brief filed by current and local Ohio election officials discusses the practical problems created by Ohio’s purge practice –Ohio’s practice even lacks support from many of the Ohio officials who must administer it.

Several of the other amicus briefs examine the barriers to voting faced by people of color, workers, seniors, low-income individuals, persons with limited English proficiency, and persons who are housing insecure.  They explain why failure to vote in a single election simply does not provide a reliable basis for believing a registered voter has moved.  Together, the organizations submitting briefs represent innumerable Americans who could be impacted if Ohio’s voter purge practice is upheld and adopted in other states. A fact sheet detailing all 18 briefs is available here.

Dēmos, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Ohio initially filed this lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted last year in district court to end Ohio’s practice of purging infrequent voters.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit determined that Ohio’s practice unequivocally violates the NVRA’s prohibition on removing registrants from the rolls for not voting.

“Voting is the very foundation of our democracy, and Ohio’s voter purge practice is a clear attempt to deny eligible people their right to have their voices heard. We welcome the extraordinarily broad support that these amicus briefs provide in establishing that Ohio’s voter purge is unjust, unnecessary, and violates the law,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President, Policy & Legal Strategies at Dēmos.

“The vast scope of amici support spotlights just how out of the mainstream Ohio is on this issue. It is common sense that eligible voters have the right to choose when, how, and how often to vote. They shouldn’t be disenfranchised for exercising that right,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

In 2015 alone, hundreds of thousands of voters were removed pursuant to Ohio’s unlawful purge practice. In in Ohio’s largest county, Cuyahoga, over 40,600 registrants were purged from the rolls simply because they had failed to vote in a six-year period.

“The breadth of these amicus filings indicates the scope of the concerns about Ohio’s voter purges.  This purge case spurred a large, diverse outpouring of individuals, organizations, and minority groups; they want to weigh in, to explain to the Supreme Court why they also condemn the purge,” said Freda Levenson, legal director for the ACLU of Ohio.

Dēmos and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court detailing why targeting registered voters for eventual removal from the registration rolls because of their failure to vote violates NVRA. Read the brief.

 

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