Supreme Court Upholds Ohio Purging Names From Voting Rolls In 5-4 Decision [FULL DECISION TEXT]
The Supreme Court has upheld Ohio’s method of purging names from voter rolls Monday in a 5-4 ruling.
The court ruled that kicking voters off of rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from state election officials does not violate federal laws. The state sends address confirmation notices to voters who have not engaged in voter activity for two years. If the voter responds online or returns the notice through prepaid mail, their information is updated. If they do not respond and do not update their information for four years, their registration is cancelled.
Federal laws prohibit states from removing people from voter rolls “by reason of the person’s failure to vote,” but allow election officials who suspect a voter of moving to send a confirmation notice.
“We have no authority to second-guess Congress or to decide whether Ohio’s supplemental process is the ideal method for keeping its voting rolls up to date,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the conservative majority. “The only question before us is whether it violates federal law.”
Alito added that the federal laws allow for such notices as a way to cull inaccuracies from the voting rolls. He wrote that a key provision “simply forbids the use of nonvoting as the sole criterion for removing a registrant, and Ohio does not use it that way,” and “Ohio removes registrants only if they have failed to vote and have failed to respond to a notice.”
This decision is the latest in an ongoing partisan battle surrounding how far state governments can go in imposing voting restrictions. These include cutting back on early voting, eliminating same-day registration and tough voter ID laws, with Republicans favoring more of these restrictions and Democrats favoring fewer.
In dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the majority had placed too much reliance on failures to respond to these notices. He wrote that in 2012, Ohio sent out 1.5 million notices to roughly 20 percent of the state’s registered voters.
“Ohio only received back about 60,000 return cards (or 4 percent) which said, in effect, ‘You are right, Ohio. I have, in fact, moved,’” Breyer wrote. “In addition, Ohio received back about 235,000 return cards that said, in effect, ‘You are wrong, Ohio, I have not moved.’”
“In the end, however, there were more than one million notices – the vast majority of notices sent – to which Ohio received no return card at all,” he added. Many voters who had not moved were removed from rolls for what Breyer called “the human tendency to not send back cards received in the mail.”
Alito said he was unimpressed with Breyer’s “cobbled-together statistics and a feature of human nature of which the dissent has apparently taken judicial notice.”
Below is the full opinion.